Disclaimer: I do not own Worm — it belongs to Wildbow. I'm just playing with it for now.
The first thing she noticed was that her surroundings weren't really black.
The second thing she noticed was that her surroundings didn't exist at all.
She screamed as her body began to plummet endlessly into the empty void, a sound almost like the rushing of a river seeming to join her in her desperation. She felt herself being stripped away—thoughts, memories, emotions. Her panic increased — she couldn't forget who she was! She needed something to cling to!
Taylor. Her name.
"I am Taylor!"
The words made up only a single, brief moment of her scream, but she drew strength from them. She was Taylor.
Taylor had no idea how long she had been falling or why her throat hadn't become raw from the screaming, but after she had found herself her movement was arrested without warning. She hadn't hit anything. She had just… stopped.
YOU HAD A NICE SET OF LUNGS.
The words weren't spoken. They were simply there, as if they had always been there and would always be there. Had the words always been there a minute ago? They must have been.
Taylor found her body rotating to face a slightly darker patch of not-black. It didn't seem to have a defined appearance, moving unsettlingly between small, human-like outlines and impossibly vast shapes that had too many angles to fit in the space it occupied.
"Who are you?" She stammered. "Where am I?"
AH, YES. YOUR KIND ALWAYS FEELS MORE COMFORTABLE CONVERSING WITH ANOTHER ENTITY. MY APOLOGIES.
The next second Taylor's senses deserted her entirely. She was screaming again, she knew she was, but she couldn't hear herself. She couldn't even feel the vibrations in the place where she knew her throat had to be.
An impossible eternity later her sight returned, and with it the rest of the world. She had been right — she was screaming. Her throat was at least a foot to the left of the place she had expected it to be, though.
...And she was no longer alone in the void. There was a girl floating across from her, about her age.
Do all humans from your world scream so much?
Taylor swore then and there that she would never complain about her mouth being too wide again. The girl-shaped thing still hadn't spoken, the words still arriving in some impossible fashion, but it had moved its mouth in some bizarre parody of the act of speaking. While the mouth looked perfectly normal when it was closed, it had overtaken most of the thing's face while it 'talked', revealing uneven, jagged black teeth that looked more like the edges of a broken bottle as painted by a blind madman with a brush made of his own hair. Its tongue reminded her of an enormous red worm.
Now that Taylor was more alert to the creature's unnatural nature, more problems jumped out at her. While it looked like a human — she had thought it was human, at a glance — it was more like a sculpture made by someone who had heard humans described once but had no real idea how they should look.
Its eyes were subtly different shades of blue and were uneven in both size and alignment. Only one was focused on Taylor at any given time, with the other looking around the area or even rolling back to stare inside the creature's head. Its hair was a single mass — not individual strands, but a solid block carved to superficially appear as such. Its nose had no nostrils, its ears lacked ear canals, its skin was multi-hued. Its right arm had a long staff in place of a hand — looked almost like it had a hand holding the staff, if you weren't looking for oddities — and its left had a vaguely hand-shaped void, deeper by far than their surroundings.
Taylor tried to find words to express herself, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out. The creature's mouth curved into what she imagined was probably supposed to be a frown.
I have not taken on a mortal shape in some time, but is this truly such a frightening sight?
Taylor could only nod, trying to forget those teeth. The creature frowned again, and Taylor once more found her senses deserting her.
She was unsurprised to find herself screaming when they came back.
The creature had changed again. Taylor was now facing a perfect copy of herself — no matter how hard she looked, she couldn't see anything but a human girl.
"Is this better?" The creature asked. It was really speech this time — or sounded like it, anyway.
Taylor hesitated, but nodded. As disconcerting as it was to talk to herself, it was still better than the indescribable… thing… that been in front of her before.
"Wha- Who are you?" She asked, wincing at her slip. "Where are we?" Taylor had never heard of a cape remotely like the creature in front of her, if it was a cape at all. Even now that it had taken on a truly human shape, some part of her mind refused to acknowledge it as human.
"I have been called many things," the creature said, smiling. It was Taylor's smile, but there was something wrong about it — like the body knew how to smile, but the inhabitant didn't. "You can call me… Hm." It cocked its head, and Taylor squeezed her eyes shut to block out the sight of her own head twisting just shy of 180 degrees, as if it had been left to dangle after her neck had been snapped.
"Ah, I know. Karen will do for now." For all that the gesture looked more natural now, there was nothing human left in the smile this time. "As for your other question, what's the last thing you remember?"
Taylor bit her lip as she tried to think. Her memories were hazy, drifting out of her reach whenever she thought to grasp them. She knew her name, obviously. She had thought something about Karen being a 'cape' — but what was that? She pushed on, refusing to forget. She had remembered her name, hadn't she?
"I am Taylor," she whispered to herself. In that moment, the dam broke and her memories came rushing back. Cooking with Mom. Playing with Emma. A car crash. Growing distant from her father. The betrayal of a sister. And at the end, looming large, a locker.
Taylor collapsed onto the solid-not-solid empty fullness of the void, tears pouring from her eyes.
It wasn't a question.
"You are." Karen nodded agreeably.
"Karen." Taylor laughed wetly. "Not very original, are you?"
"And you're not very good at distracting yourself," the creature rejoined.
Taylor winced. "Is this… it?"
"It?" Karen raised an eyebrow. Taylor didn't bat an eye as it rose above the creature's head — she would take the deity's attempts to put on a veneer of mortality in the spirit they were given.
"Death." Taylor swallowed. "Is this… it? Am I stuck here forever?"
"Ah." There was a gravity to the word. "Well, you have proven to be a rather unusual case. Souls aren't supposed to resist the Lethe, you know." Karen wagged a finger at her.
Taylor's mind pulled up the sound of a rushing river as she tumbled through an abyss. "That was the Lethe?"
"It was indeed. It is rare that a soul can hold onto any memory after experiencing her embrace, you know. She's most put out about the situation."
The not-air of the void seemed to grow heavier at that pronouncement, and Taylor thought she could hear a faint sound of running water.
"I'm sorry!" She squeaked.
Karen burst out laughing. "Sorry, she says! My, my. You spit in the eye of a god and then you simply apologize? You are an interesting one. Heroes are supposed to be defiant to the end, you know?"
"I didn't know what was going on," Taylor argued. "And I'm not a hero, anyway."
The death goddess waved her off. "I'll get over it, don't worry. A change of pace is rather enjoyable every now and then."
"You'll get over it?" Taylor was sure her confusion showed plainly on her face. "I thought you said Lethe was the one who was upset?"
"She, I, whatever." Karen smiled secretively at her. "Surely you don't expect borders to be quite so clear-cut here as they are back in your little world of humans? There are no dreamers to separate us." The smile became predatory, and Taylor shrunk back, feeling like a mouse before a cat. "Or there shouldn't be, at any rate."
The deity was suddenly next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Look, Taylor. You weren't supposed to resist the Lethe, but you did. That gives us a few more options than we usually have."
"What do you mean?" A spark of hope lit in Taylor's chest, though she tried to resist it. There was no point in getting her hopes up — what were the odds that Karen was going to let her return to life?
"Well, you retained your memories, didn't you? That's a no-no — you can't be reborn like that, silly girl." Karen gently poked Taylor's nose with her index finger, a fond smile on her face.
The expression looked almost normal, Taylor noticed distantly. The god was getting better at using a human face.
"So really, we have two choices here. I could stick you back in the Lethe and hope you get properly cleaned up, but that seems rather boring, don't you think? Not a proper hero's reward at all, oh no." Karen shook her head. "On the other hand, as irregular as it would be…" Had Taylor just thought that Karen was getting better at human expressions? This smile was the least normal yet. "Well, if you had a strong tie to the living world, I just might leave the door cracked open a little. Who knows what could slip out?"
"A strong tie to the living world?" The hope was a roaring inferno in Taylor's chest.
"A goal of some kind," Karen purred. "Something worth living for, something towards which you threw your entire being." She paused, smiling to herself. "Of course, that will would be the only thing sustaining you, you understand? No matter how you slice it, you'll still be dead. The moment you give up on your goal…" She slammed her fist into her palm. "That's it. You're done. And if you were to achieve your goal, you'd need a new one. You understand?"
"I think so," Taylor muttered, head spinning. A goal that she could dedicate her entire being toward?
"A little wish won't do it, either. Don't think you can get by with the desire to simply see something." Karen bared her teeth. "Revenge is popular in these situations, you know? Put your murderers in the ground. Easy to dedicate yourself to. Nice for beginners."
Revenge sounded incredibly tempting, Taylor mused. The chance to get back at the bitches who had killed her…
Her mother's disappointed face swam up in front of her eyes.
No, revenge wouldn't do. Taylor ran her life through her mind, finding herself able to access all of her memories since early childhood with a clarity she had never known in life. A resolve began to form.
"I think I've got it, Karen." She spoke haltingly, but firmly.
"Think you've got it? That's no good," the goddess admonished playfully, poking Taylor's nose again. "Nothing but absolute certainty will do."
"I've got it," Taylor declared forcefully, glaring into her doppelgänger's eyes.
"Let's hear it, then." Karen grinned widely.
"I'm going to find someone who loves me and won't ever abandon me." Taylor's chest was filled with determination, eyes burning with the resolve she felt. "No more Emmas. A best friend, a lover, I don't care — someone who will be loyal to me and choose me first."
Karen's eyes widened and she doubled over in laughter, her grip on Taylor's shoulder bringing them both to their knees.
"I offer you revenge and you decide to go on a quest for love?" Despite her laughter, the goddess didn't sound out of breath at all. "You do realize how difficult what you're asking would be for a normal living being, let alone someone in your situation?"
"I do." Taylor remained firm, refusing to let the mockery sway her heart. She would find someone who cared about her as deeply as her mother had. There had to be someone.
"Well, I suppose it's your choice." Karen's eyes were twinkling. "As long as you don't give up, it's not impossible, even for you." She hauled Taylor back to her feet and fixed her with a hard stare. "It's fine to pick up side goals when I send you back — I'd recommend it, really. Every little bit of willpower that you can put towards the world will help keep you anchored. But never forget the wish that you've got now — you can't replace the big thing until it's complete, or you won't like the consequences."
"I understand." Taylor refused to let the apprehension she was feeling show on her face. She could do this.
"Until we meet again." Karen shoved her and she was falling, falling, falling…
Karen, now as alone as it ever was, looked down at the swirling sphere in its borrowed hand.
"Really, Taylor Hebert… You were a most interesting human." The mouth on the human body opened, and the deity swallowed the orb. "Such willpower… And you chose to spend it on a goal like that?" It shook its head. "Well, it really doesn't matter if your remnant succeeds or fails. Either way…"
The body broke apart, returning to formlessness. Unless one had a photographic memory and had carefully studied the void, it would appear exactly as it had before Taylor Hebert had defied the Lethe.
EITHER WAY, YOU WILL DREAM.
Taylor's vision returned. A gravestone stood before her, a simple stone affair.
She fell to her knees, mind blank as her hand reached out to trace the inscription.
Her mouth opened in a scream when her fingers passed through the stone.
AN: I started on this while I was cooped up in the hospital, and will be publishing chapters on alternate weeks with Bonds as I move it from handwritten to computer storage. Bonds is in no way abandoned, don't worry about that! I'll try not to have such a long break in posting again, but I'm still not back to 100% so I really can't promise anything.