A Worm Fanfic
The Taste of Peaches
Taylor twirled before the mirror. She nodded approvingly at her reflection. The final uniform with logos looked good on her, and it even had small pockets for ID and credit cards tucked away into the top. She patted the pocket where she had slipped her ID. She couldn't even feel the card tucked away against her side.
"So? How is it?" Glenn asked. The PR man was standing off to the side looking through his never shrinking pile of paperwork.
She adjusted the uniform's tiara and took a moment to admire the fox-eared trio of garnet hearts hanging over where her ears used to be. It was a nice way to disguise the fact that she didn't have human ears anymore. She tugged on the top to adjust the way the fox-heart in the centre sat.
"I like it," she said finally, "There's enough room for a couple of credit cards here as well. Assuming dad lets me use one."
"I talked with your father about that yesterday," Glenn said, "Ask him about it when you get the chance. Being able to shop while in uniform could potentially be good PR."
"Just be careful what I'm seen buying?" Taylor deadpanned and he chuckled. There was bound to be at least one article at some point analyzing what type of shampoo she was using. Such was fame.
"Essentially. Now is there anything-" The door opened to allow two PRT Troopers in full gear into the room.
"Sorry for the intrusion Glenn," the first one said, "But the Director is sending all Wards home for the day. There's been an incident."
"Incident?" Taylor parroted, looking over to Glenn. The PR manager sighed.
"What now?" he groaned, "Anything I should panic over?" The trooper shrugged.
"They haven't told me a thing, Glenn. My orders are to shuffle Ms. Hebert out of the building as fast as possible. The rest of my team is already doing the same for Vista and Aegis," he said.
"Do I have enough time to get changed?" Taylor asked as Inari trotted across the tabletop to sit closer to her.
"Not at the moment. Director wants everyone out ASAP." He seemed apologetic, but it was hard to tell through the reflective helmets.
"It's fine," Glenn sighed, "Taylor, wear the uniform home. Be rough to it, see if anything irritates you about it. Give me a call tomorrow, you have my number, right?" She nodded. "Good. Do we have enough time to throw her things into a bag for her?"
"I can wait that long," the trooper said. Instantly Glenn's assistants burst into action, gathering up Taylor's things, including several sets of clothes they had modified for her use.
Taylor sighed. "So much for today's lessons." They had been planning on starting the courses on how to handle people properly as a hero, but it looked like those would be postponed.
"We'll rearrange things once I know what's going on," Glenn assured her, "Try to stay out of trouble for now."
"Out of trouble? What trouble is she supposed to get into? The most trouble she gets these days is losing the remote control for the TV between the cushions," Inari quipped. Taylor rolled her eyes.
"That was your fault last time," she replied.
"It's still trouble," the ex-goddess returned.
Glenn chuckled. "Just enjoy the day. Consider it time off for now. We'll pick back up later."
She nodded her acquiescence. She glanced down at Inari. "Practice?" she asked.
Inari gave her an imperceptible nod. "Only if we use the tub again. I'm not explaining why the recliner is covered in salt again," she said.
Once she was handed her bag of clothes, Taylor scooped up Inari and let the troopers lead her out of the building. As they were climbing into an unmarked PRT SUV in the basement she caught sight of Vista and Aegis climbing into their own vans. Vista waved and she waved back with a smile before climbing in.
As she settled herself to look out the window while petting Inari. She wondered what the incident was about. Probably nothing to do with her, but at least it would give her the opportunity to continue practicing with portals.
"All of this brings into question Ms. Hebert's intentions and requires that we reassess our plans. Fortunately, we haven't yet set a public date for the news conference, but that's the only silver lining I can see to this incident," Director Emily Piggot said while looking into the camera of her computer.
On the screen her superior nodded, a finger tapping her cheek. "I understand your worries Emily," Director Costa-Brown replied, her tone understanding, however, Emily could pick up a slight tone of 'however' in her voice. "However," she hated being right, "Some of our best thinkers have already weighed in. You are to push for a reveal Friday next week."
"Next- Rebbecca, she has potentially mastered another hero. Pushing her out-" she protested.
"Nothing of the sort has happened," Rebecca cut her off, "As I said, some of our best thinkers have already given their opinions. This is nothing more than a one-time power interaction. From now on Panacea is to be forbidden to have physical contact with Corentine."
"I won't disagree on that, but it's only been two and a half hours," she replied. It usually took at least a full day to produce a report on an incident like this. Sure, during a crisis the think tanks would put out frequent suggestions and observations, but those weren't reports. They were on the fly best-guess responses given quickly due to the imminent nature of the situation. While important, Ms. Victoria Dallon gaining a tail and ears did not qualify as an imminent emergency.
"I have had several of our best thinkers paying close attention to this project, Emily," the Chief Director said, "They assure me this is just a power interaction. Corentine shows no signs of being a human master." She raised a stack of papers into view. "This was precipitated by what they are referring to as 'Corentine's incomprehensible biology'. They assert that Panacea's powers accidentally expressed themselves on her sister when she went to break her and Corentine apart following her inability to comprehend her biology. Due to this the think tank has assigned her a stranger rating of two."
Piggot leaned back in her chair. "I see…" She said, folding her hands together as she thought. It was nearly impossible to say how many powers of the more esoteric powers would interact until they did. "I am still of the opinion that next Friday is too soon. I understand that it is the opinion of the PRT that we hurry it along so as to refrain from unduly confining Ms. Hebert, but she needs more time. Training, testing-"
"For Master powers I assume?" Rebecca asked. Emily simply frowned. "Denied. Emily, do not make this personal. She is going to be your subordinate and I expect you to play ball. If she steps out of line, that's one thing, but do not start something. We need her. Am I clear?"
She closed her eyes and sighed. "Quite." Bitch. "However, Dr. Chambers still wishes to run further tests, regardless of my own opinions she believes that we have yet to delve the full depths of Ms. Hebert's abilities," she said as she reopened them. And wasn't that a terrifying thought. The girl could cut through a tank with water, summon a hurricane, power an entire city, fly for fucks sake, and yet it still wasn't the 'full depths' of what she could do.
"If Ms. Hebert consents then Dr. Chambers may proceed with her tests. Hers, not yours," her boss said.
"Understood. Also, Glenn was planning the week after next as the earlier possible date. It won't be me alone who has issues with Friday the twenty-third of July," she continued.
To her surprise, the Chief Director shrugged. "I don't care. The thinkers, the same ones responsible for this report," she waved the stack of pages again, "believe that the best time for her reveal will be next Friday. Anything later risks her reception. Am I clear?"
She hesitated. "Perfectly," she said as politely as she could. Judging by Rebecca's narrowed eyes it hadn't been polite enough. Despite that, her boss simply nodded.
"Good. I'll send you a copy of the report later. And now I'll leave you to get to work managing this mess. Good luck, Emily," with that the Chief Director vanished as the call closed.
"God what a mess," Emily sighed, standing up with a groan. Her legs were stiff from sitting in that chair for so long.
She had known that Ms. Hebert was too good to be true. Seemingly sane, with a wide breadth of powers that gave any one of the Triumvirate a run for their money. Too good to be true.
She walked over to the window that looked out towards the bay. Opening the blinds she stared out at the Rig and harbour. Perhaps she was being a touch uncharitable. Assuming the thinkers were right then it was just a power interaction. The girl could hardly be blamed for a one-in-a-million encounter. Hell, the odds were probably longer than that since Panacea was the only one of her kind. Still, letting this go did not sit well with her. This was a strange incident and strange usually meant dangerous in this line of work.
She watched as a small freighter, one of the few that would visit Brockton Bay, was guided into the port by a tug boat. She turned away and walked back towards her desk.
She hadn't gotten this far in her line of work by taking chances. Rebecca may have had faith in these thinkers, but she wanted more before she put her trust behind this girl. Picking up her phone she dialled a familiar number. After a few rings, a young woman answered.
"This is the office of Director Alan Gregory of the PRT DC, how may I help you today?"
"This is Director Piggot of the PRT ENE. Is Director Gregory available?" Emily asked.
"Director Piggot, I- One moment please?" the line clicked over to the on-hold music. She shook her head. That girl was still so skittish. After six months you would have thought she would have gotten used to this. A few moments later the on-hold music terminated suddenly. "He's available. Would you like me to patch you through, Director?"
"One moment." The line went silent for a moment then started to ring again. It was picked up on the second ring.
A deep and rough voice answered. "Director Alan Gregory here."
"Alan, it's Emily. I have a few questions about a report," she said, taking her seat.
"Straight to the point today then," he chuckled, "What sort of report are you talking about?"
"... This will take some explaining. It started yesterday," Piggot said, laying out the situation. After she was done she waited.
"I see. That is odd. Two and a half hours between you receiving the heads-up about the incident and being told about a completed report. Not much time at all. I've seen it happen before, but two and a half hours…" Alan trailed off. The clatter of a keyboard in the background echoed in the background. "Washington may be the primary thinktank for the PRT, but I don't think this came out of here Emily. There's been no traffic for the last hour and a half."
"What about earlier?"
"Not possible," he replied instantly, "You can't write something that long and submit it even with a thinker power in… You, up the chain, then down… Hour? Hour, ten at most? Doesn't happen. Either someone submitted that report without the correct channels, or it came out of a different thinktank."
She sighed. "Thanks anyway Alan," she sighed.
"No problem, Emily. Enjoy the rest of the day. I'll let you know if I stumble on anything."
"You too, and thank you." She hung up and sighed, rubbing the side of her face. She would poke around elsewhere, but odds were she was only going to get the report from the Chief Director with the names redacted. She hated not knowing who she was trusting her life to.
For now, though, she would get to work following her orders. She keyed the intercom. "Get Armsmaster and Glenn in here. Now."
Rebecca leaned back from her computer. "She's not happy," she said to her guest.
Contessa smiled thinly. "No more than you are," she replied. The parahuman woman was filing her nails and a part of Rebecca had to wonder how much of it was need and how much was show. A step down one of her paths perhaps? She'd asked that once, years ago. The answer of 'Would it matter if it was?' still bothered her.
"People are going to want an actual report, not hearsay," she said, standing up and walking over to the filing cabinet in the corner of her office, the report on the quarterly office performance review process under one arm.
"And you'll have it through the usual channels under the usual alias by tomorrow," Contessa assured her.
"Hmm. I don't like this. Least of all because you've said you can't track her. We don't need yet another blind spot," she said as she refiled the report.
"I can track her."
"Unless she uses her powers," Rebecca countered, turning back to her colleague, "Which she does, all the time." Contessa inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement. "And now Victoria Dallon, Glory Girl, is just as much of a blind spot. I've just signed off on a walking blindspot generator with only your word that this is for the good of everyone."
"So you say." Rebecca walked back over to her desk and took her seat again. She watched Contessa for a minute in silence as the other woman continued to file and trim her nails. "What assurance can you give me that Panacea and Corentine won't ever again be in a situation to create more blindspots?"
Contessa paused in her acts and looked up. She sighed and shook her head before going back to her trimming.
"Fortuna," Rebecca said warningly.
She ceased her filing and folded her hands in her lap. "I can't give you any," the thinker replied. That was not what she wanted to hear.
"Can't give me any? Fortuna!" she managed to keep her voice at a low hiss.
"I can barely track them because of what my agent is, Rebecca," her friend replied, "But the Simurgh will be even more blind than I, and our foe? Yet more blind. Of that I am certain."
"That still leaves us half-blind," she replied, "I don't like this. But at least the odds of them multiplying further are low." Fortuna chuckled and shook her head. "What?"
The next sentence she spoke brought the Chief Director's thoughts to a halt. "Rebecca, they don't need Panacea and Corentine in order to multiply," she said, "And more importantly, we need them to."
Rebecca stared at her friend. She stood up, her fingers cracking the wood of her chair's armrest. "Explain." Her tone left no room for argument. Contessa looked at her curiously, then nodded once. And then she explained.
Hours later, Rebecca wished she could still get drunk.
"Hold." Taylor froze, one arm half-way outstretched as the PRT trainer walked over from the corner of the padded mat spread over the floor of what had been only the day before the crowded garage. The day after she had been sent home due to some sort of ongoing incident PRT personnel had shown up at her home and refitted the garage as an impromptu gym for teaching her the basic fundamentals of fighting.
On a side note, the basement was in even more desperate need of a thorough cleaning. Any rats that were down there were probably planning a lawsuit at this point.
Her trainer was a tall muscular PRT Sergeant with a square chin that looked like someone had taken the corner off it with a buzzsaw. She hadn't had the nerve to ask what had happened quite yet. He went by the name of Sergeant Atlas Wilson and had a service record going back over a decade apparently.
Atlas stopped by her side and without so much as a 'by your leave' adjusted her arm. "You're too loose. Tighten that arm up," he said as he straightened her arm out so he knuckles touched the punching bag she had been lightly hitting.
"You said it was too stiff," she said.
He nodded. "And it was, but now it's too loose. Your aim is drifting and for someone with your kind of strength that's a very bad thing. Inches can be the difference between incapacitating someone and killing them," he said. She winced. "Punch again."
She threw one punch.
"Too stiff. Again."
"Too loose. Again."
"Far too stiff. Again."
"Unclench your hand a bit. Good, now loosen up your arm again… No, too far, back it off. Good. Punch."
The instruction continued for another thirty minutes with Atlas intervening every few punches before the sergeant called it to a halt. She hadn't even begun to sweat, but their time for the day was over. The two of them walked over to the small table in the corner with a pitcher of water full of ice cubes and several bottles of sports drinks. Not that she really needed either. She wasn't thirsty or tired from their practice. Her instructor, however, took a bright red bottle from the cooler in a chair beside the table.
"Ah, that's the stuff," he sighed, before heading over to the only other table set up in the room. A young man in a lab coat was behind a laptop in the corner by the door. "So, Stevey, how's it looking? Is she doing better on the use of force issue?"
The man looked up from the data. "Uh, better, she should probably avoid punching anyone in the head at the moment," he said, glancing back down. "If they aren't a brute they'll die. Anywhere else on the body and she'll leave broken bones," he said.
She winced as she poured a glass of water, splashing a bit on the table. It was better than yesterday to be sure, but that was still more force that she wanted to use. They had made the discovery the day before that she could handle light things like glass, or she could bend steel. The difference between the two was nearly impossible for her to tell when throwing a punch.
"That's a lot better than yesterday. Since we're making such good progress we'll keep focusing on this," Atlas said. He took a swig of his drink and turned to her. "Good work for today kid. Why don't you head back in and get to your next class."
"Thanks," She said with a slightly nervous smile from behind her glass. It hadn't felt like good work, what with the constant corrections and the fact that she would probably still kill someone by accident right now.
Taking the pitcher and her drink she said her goodbyes and quickly retreated from the garage. In the kitchen, sitting at the table behind another laptop wearing a white turtleneck and large round glasses, was her other teacher for the day. Where Atlas was covering her martial training with a focus on non-lethal takedowns, Ms. Jenny taught public relations.
"Hello Taylor," she said with a smile as she walked over with the pitcher, "Finally done with Atlas' torture?"
"Not much of a torture," she replied as she took a seat. The pitcher was set down beside her.
Ms. Jenny rolled her eyes and sighed. "I would have killed for that sort of stamina in my high school days. A three-hour workout and you aren't even sweaty," she said, her jealousy plain to the world.
Taylor laughed nervously and sipped her glass of water. It was weird realizing people were jealous of her.
Her teacher sighed. "Nevermind that. Anyway, today we're going to start with the news. Let's move over to the sitting room," she said, gathering up her laptop. Taylor sighed and topped up her glass before following her teacher out of the room. She really should have expected that. The day before they had started the exact same way. Watching news from both local and around the country, then talking about how to handle some of the situations they had seen, then onto talking about theoretical situations. Altogether it was a curriculum that would take up her next four hours easily.
At least Jenny let her get food during it.
Taking over the couch again, Taylor nursed her drink as Jenny turned the TV on and switched it to the local Channel 12 news.
"... biggest seizure of illegal weapons in the last ten years," the newscaster was saying as footage taken from a helicopter played showing police storming a warehouse. "Despite the presence of E88 capes on scene, no casualties have been reported amongst Brockton Bay Police or PRT ENE personnel thanks to the heroic actions of Armsmaster."
The picture changed to show several gangsters being loaded into a van. "Despite the hero's presence, however, both Cricket and Stormtiger escaped the raid. The PRT requests that anyone with knowledge of their location come forward and that bystanders should not approach either of them. Both Stormtiger and Cricket are well known for their violent actions and are to be considered high-risk."
The Channel 12 logo and theme played before the TV showed the news desk. The middle-age man behind it was smiling at the camera. "And in other news today, there has been a noticeable uptick in pet disappearances over the last several weeks-"
Jenny switched the channel to national news. A picture of a giant shark hanging from hooks on a pier by a comparatively small, and fairly mauled, fishing trawler filled the screen. "... Behind me is probably the largest shark you have ever seen," began the newsman. He gestured to the fenced-off pier behind him, "Measuring 20.4 meters long and weighing seventy-three metric tons, this is a Megalodon. Until today this species has been presumed extinct for at least three million years. There have been rumours of these beasts for decades, if not centuries, but until Simon Garfield and his crew managed to catch this behemoth just off the coast of Miami they've been dismissed as exaggerations and maritime superstition. The only question that remains is whether this is the work of nature, or the power of a parahuman. PRT Florida has refused to offer comment, stating that they will not comment on an ongoing investigation. This has been Kattie Pallow, broadcasting from Miami-Dade."
The TV was switched off as Jenny let out a heavy sigh. "As if Leviathan wasn't enough encouragement to stay out of the water," she groaned. Taylor sipped her water as she waited for the older woman to get herself back together. "Right… Let's start with Armsmaster's raid. Specifically, let's talk about how to handle hard questions about why someone managed to get away." The lesson continued on from there, only being interrupted partway through as Inari wandered in from wherever she had been to sleep amongst Taylor's tails.
As the clock ticked over four o'clock an alarm on the laptop went off and Ms. Jenny trailed off in the middle of a discussion on how to deal with pushy fans with a sigh. "Well, it seems we're out of time. I can't believe I lost track of time like that," she sighed, "We'll continue on Monday then. Please try to stay out of trouble tomorrow and enjoy your day off."
"Not like I can do much right now," she deadpanned, earning a sheepish smile from the young woman.
"I suppose not. I'll pick up my things and head on out. No need to see me off," she added as Taylor started getting up. The would-be heroine leaned back into her seat.
"If you insist. Take care Ms. Jenny," she said.
"I will," her teacher said, "take care of yourself. Good night." She waved as she ducked out of the living room, leaving Taylor with just Inari.
"Interesting ideas these mortals have," Inari mused, earning an eye roll from Taylor.
"Are you trying to sound condescending?" she asked.
Inari shrugged, "Not really? I'm mostly just bored."
"This has to be an old hand to you," Taylor mused.
Inari shrugged again. "Yes and no. A lot of the time we didn't have to worry about public relations. For those of us who were kings and queens of pantheons through brute force went unchallenged for long periods of time regardless of how much they catered to their underlings. Others like myself just did our jobs and didn't worry about it too much. Life was good and people would pray so long as the crops were healthy and their days prosperous," she said, "Both attitudes had their drawbacks and we paid the price for the former when the end came. Ruling as a Warlord with fear and power doesn't make you many friends."
"I see…" She glanced out the window. The sun was at the perfect angle to hit her head on. She yawned. The soft warmth was making her sleepy. She slid down to lie with her head against the pillow. She felt like a nap until her dad got home. With a yawn, she cuddled the pillow and buried her head beneath a tail. In minutes she was asleep, joined by the soft snores of Inari.
If the sunlight lingered on their spot for far longer than it should have there was no one there to comment on it.
It was a delicious scent, accompanied by the crash of pans, that woke Taylor. Her ears twitched and swivelled towards the kitchen as she yawned and sniffed the air. She sniffed it again at the familiar scent as she slowly returned to the world. "Lasagne?" she asked the world sleepily before yawning again. It smelled like lasagne, and there was definitely someone in the kitchen cooking.
Pausing only to dislodge Inari from her tails she stood up and wandered into the kitchen, yawning every few steps with the sleepy complaints of Inari drifting after her.
Her dad was busy at work at the stovetop. "Look who's up finally. I was starting to wonder if you were hungry," he said.
"Felt like a nap," she said, yawning loudly.
"I can tell. I'm almost done. Dinner will be a bit late, but there should be enough leftovers for tomorrow as well," her dad said as he spooned the meat-heavy sauce onto the noodles in the cake pan next to him.
The phone started ringing.
"Can you get that, Taylor?" he asked.
"Sure," she yawned, walking across the room to the phone. "Hello, Taylor Hebert here."
"Taylor, nice to hear from you. Can I speak with your father? Something important has come up," a familiar woman's voice said. It took her a good couple of seconds to process who it was. After a moment she placed it as Mrs. Dallon's.
"Sure," she said, accidentally yawning into the phone, "Ergh, sorry. Just woke up from a nap and I'm so tired for some reason." She turned towards her dad, "It's Mrs. Dallon, dad. She needs to talk to you."
"That's fine Taylor," Mrs. Dallon said.
"Can you come and finish putting this together then?" he dad asked as he set things down.
"Sure," she said. She waited until her dad came over to pass it off then headed over to the stove. She noticed Inari sneaking towards the countertop. "No," she said, pointing at the white fox. Inari gave her best 'who me?' expression. It failed to impress as Taylor's eyes narrowed.
"I won't do anything!" Inari protested.
"I remember my bacon!" she countered as she set to work assembling the meal. Behind her, her dad was listening to Mrs. Dallon, nodding along as she explained something.
"She wouldn't have- I see…" Taylor glanced over her shoulder as she laid out another layer of pasta. Her dad looked rather concerned. "Yes, I understand. You don't think- Thank you. I'm sorry." She blinked, her head tilting to the side with one ear cocking flat. He was apologizing now.
"Dad, is something wrong?" she asked. He glanced up.
"... Yes," he said after a moment's hesitation before looking back down at the notepad in his lap, "Hm, oh, just talking to Taylor she- yes, quite curious… You think so? If it would help then- Very well." She stared as he held out the phone, "For you."
She sighed and laid down the last strip of Lasagne pasta before wiping her fingers off on a paper towel and heading over to accept the phone. "Hello, Mrs. Dallon?" she asked carefully, "Is something wrong?" She hadn't a clue what could have gone wrong.
"Hello, Taylor. Vicky has something she needs to discuss with you," Mrs. Dallon said, promptly disappearing from the phone. Rather nonplussed at being handed off immediately Taylor found a seat. The few seconds before Vicky picked up the phone were truly nerve-wracking. A part of her mind was whispering that it was going to be like with Emma. She tried to ignore it, but it was still there.
"Hey Tay~" Vicky sang as she picked up, "I- Umm…"
"Um…?" Taylor repeated, "Is something wrong? Vicky?"
"Yeah… You see… how do I put this… What do I start with…?" Vicky trailed off.
"Words would be nice," she replied, getting a snort from what she hoped was still her friend.
"Yeah, yeah. You remember the incident with my sister?" Taylor nodded. Amy had zoned out completely.
"There, uh… Might have been a few side effects," Vicky said sheepishly.
"Side- Oh god. Is Amy okay? Please tell me nothing happened to her?" Taylor demanded, her mind leaping through the possibilities. Had she had a stroke? Was she just lying in bed staring at the ceiling? Maybe she was talking in strange languages or refusing to wake up? Her brain continued to spit out horrible fates that might have befallen the brunette.
"What? No! No, she's fine. Amy's perfectly okay," Vicky all but shouted hurriedly, "She isn't the one with the side effects."
The doom train that was her thoughts derailed in spectacular fashion. "What?"
"I have a fox tail and fox ears Tay. Like you."
Ears went flat. "What?!"
"They seem to think it was a power interaction or something. That lightning that happened?"
"What…" Taylor turned to Inari who was looking at her from the table. "Inari?"
"Yes?" the former goddess inquired.
Meanwhile, Vicky continued, "They think that somehow your biology got copied into me or something and now I'm part fox or something."
"Vicky has a fox tail and ears," Taylor deadpanned. Inari's head slowly tipped to the right as her ears pointed straight up. Evidently, this was not something the fox had expected.
"... How?" Inari asked
"And my blood is like tinged gold now, and- Hey, are you listening?" Vicky demanded.
"Sort of… a Foxtail?" Taylor asked.
"Yeah. Big and bushy like yours, but only the one," she replied.
"Huh…" Taylor leaned back in the folding chair and rubbed her forehead. "How?"
"They said it was some kinda power interaction. There's no way to predict how some powers interact," Vicky said.
"I- this wouldn't happen to be why I'm being taught at home rather than at the PRT building, would it?" Taylor groaned, the last couple of days starting to make more sense.
"Uh, possibly? I woke up like this the day after Amy's incident so…" Vicky trailed off and she could almost see the shrug on the other end of the line.
Which meant Mrs. Dallon probably called the PRT and they immediately locked things down. Which was why she got escorted out. She sighed. "That lines up," she said, "Well now I know why I got shuffled out of the building."
"Sorry about that…"
"Not your fault Vicky, I'm the one who should be sorry," she groaned, leaning against the counter.
"Anyway, I'm basically stuck in the house until they figure out how to fix this, or they decide I'm not contagious or something," her friend grumbled, "How much shampoo do you use by the way? This tail is so high maintenance!"
"... A lot more than I ever wanted to," Taylor replied after a moment. If it wasn't for her mastery of water the bathroom would be soaked every time she went for a shower.
"Bleh. Anyway, I think Mom wants to talk to your dad again, call you tomorrow?" Vicky asked.
"Sure, I've got time off. We can commiserate about being stuck inside all the time," she said.
"It suuuuucks, and they won't even let me see Dean!" her friend grumbled. She giggled and waved her dad over from where he had just put the Lasagne into the oven.
"Handing the phone off," she said, "Talk to you later Vicky."
"Later Tay~" Vicky replied cheerily. Taylor passed the phone off to her dad.
"I'm going to go lay down for a bit," she said, getting a nod from her dad.
"I'll call you down when dinner is ready," he said.
"Thanks," she replied, scooping up Inari on her way past the table. Neither of them said a word until they were ensconced in her bedroom, lying in a big ball of tails and blankets.
"Well this sucks," she said aloud, "How did this even happen? What even happened? Inari?" She looked at the fox who had claimed her pillow.
Inari hummed. "What exactly happened?" she asked. Taylor filled her in on the conversation. "Huh…" Inari trailed off as she tapped her paw to her chin. "This is… Tinged gold she said?"
"Yup. Let's assume you aren't pulling my leg about the whole Goddess thing for a second," she said, getting a small sigh from the fox, "I thought the reason I had gold blood is because I'm a Goddess."
"You are, and yes. Only gods have pure golden blood, or Divine Ichor as some refer to it," Inari replied. The fox clicked her teeth in frustration. "Victoria Dallon is not a goddess, but if she is showing signs of Divine Ichor then she has some level of divine blood."
"What does that mean exactly?" Taylor asked, rolling onto her back. She ran a hand through the fur of one of her tails. She knew of Gods and Demi-Gods. "Do Demi-Gods not have golden blood?" she asked before Inari could reply.
"On?" She shot an irritated look at her companion.
Inari stared down at her from her perch atop the pillow with contemplative silence. After a moment she said, "On how close to ascension they are."
She digested that over a silent minute. "So Vicky is… Like me then? That doesn't make any sense. Assuming you're right, how does a parahuman interacting with a god accidentally create a Demi-God?"
"There are the traditional ways, but since you didn't spend the last nine months pregnant and haven't knowingly gifted Victoria part of your power… That is a very good question…" Inari trailed off thoughtfully.
"And what are the odds of her having a fox domain as well? Are we sure I didn't just turn her into a Kitsune or…" she waved a hand in the air.
"If it wasn't for the golden blood I'd say that is what you did," Inari replied, "But… gah, I need to see her in person. This isn't making any sense to me." She buried her head in her paws. Taylor patted her gently on the head.
"We'll figure it out. At least we have tomorrow off. Vicky is planning on calling so we can talk a bit then. Ask her a few questions-"
"Not a good idea," Inari cut in, peeking out from beneath her paws, "That call tonight was probably being listened to by the PRT."
"You think so?" It made a sort of sense. They were probably worried Taylor had mastered her or something with this. It certainly explained moving things back to her house. She frowned. The lack of trust bothered her, but then again they had only known her for a short while…
She buried her face in a tail and tried not to growl. This entire thing was going to bug her all night long, she was sure of it. Hopefully, with the phone call things would get back to normal. She had liked the time she spent with her new teammates. They were a bit weird and Dennis was certainly annoying, but they weren't Emma and her clique. They were nice people and fun.
Taylor pulled Inari off the pillow and into a hug as she rested her head where the fox had been lying. "Oi!" her advisor complained, only to quiet down as Taylor wrapped her in a tail.
"Any other ideas?" she asked.
"Nothing that I can think of so far," Inari replied.
They lay there, both engrossed in their own thoughts, until her dad called them down for dinner.
After days of on again off again practice, the worlds that surrounded Earth Bet were laid out before Taylor's eyes as she submerged herself in the resonance of the world once again. Over there a bell, ringing like an angelic choir; to the side a violin, its strings whispering like the leaves; behind, the fizzing foam of an ocean as it met the beach; and floating high above this sea of sensation, was a golden note that rippled through the background of every world. It coloured the realms it touched and complemented every sensation from sound, to touch, to sight, to taste.
The Celestial Realm.
"How didn't I notice it sooner?" she asked Inari.
The fox chuckled. "I've been asked that question so many times. The answer is simply that you cannot see the forest for the trees; the sea, for the waves; or the crowd, for the people. It is there, but it is everywhere as well, tying the Realms of Man together forever," she said.
They sat there for a few minutes as Taylor observed the ebb and flow of the Celestial Realm's presence. Eventually, she asked, "What now?"
"Now we practice opening the portal. You remember my lectures?" Inari asked.
"Mostly?" She had taken notes, but she hadn't exactly had the time to look them over recently.
"Hmmm, you can feel our world, yes?"
"Given that it's in the way of everything else? Yeah. Dark, a bit oily, feels like a storm is about to roll over everything," she said.
"Accurate. Now, recite to me how to connect two worlds in preparation for a portal."
"Uuuh," Taylor's ears twitched as she tried to pull the notes from the back of her mind where they'd been buried by everything else. "I have to… grasp the thaumic fields of both worlds and intertwine them?" she said hesitantly.
"And how do you do that without turning into a christmas tree again?"
She wanted to pout at that jab, she really did. It hadn't been her fault she accidentally turned herself neon pink. "With willpower and a fixed goal to guide it… And make sure I don't accidentally try to tie more than two worlds together?"
"Not unless you wish to still be sparking when your father gets home," Inari giggled.
"You know that hurt last time," she said flatly, keeping her proverbial eye on the Celestial Realm.
"That's why you're supposed to avoid doing that, Taylor," her giggling teacher chided.
She sighed and tried to tune out Inari as she returned her attention to the task. She needed to intertwine Earth Bet with the Celestial Realm as a first step. 'Intertwine'. Inari's explanation had taken several hours and involved words that she still didn't have definitions for. What she had taken away was that she needed to somehow entangle the metaphysical equivalent of an oncoming storm with a shining golden note.
Well, it couldn't be that hard, she'd already done it by accident once before.
An hour later she groaned, blinking slowly up at the living room's ceiling as her head pounded. Small pink flashes of light danced in her vision. She blinked. No, there were actual flashes of pink light popping in the air above her.
Inari leaned into view. "You're finally awake, I see," she said.
"Ow." She had to be imagining the smoke wafting in the air.
"Hmm, you seem fine, though you might want a shower after that," her teacher said conversationally, "You were about for about a minute."
"Feels longer," she groaned as she sat up, "Ooow. I think that hurt more than last time." A glance confirmed that her tails and hair had gone neon pink again. Small pink sparks were floating into the air from them. Her ears twitched involuntarily.
"You were plugged into two worlds at the same time. Of course, it hurt more," Inari said, "I was watching, try grasping less. You only need to connect a little bit to create a path large enough for yourself. Try imagining it like parting the strands of a rope."
"You couldn't have said that before?" she asked. Her teacher just smiled toothily.
"Some things are best learned through experience," she said.
Taylor snorted and painfully got to her feet. "Yeah, yeah." She stretched and winced as all of the muscles up her back and legs promptly throbbed dully in complaint. That was a lot worse than last time. "I think I'm going to take a bath and call it quits for the moment."
"That is probably a good idea," Inari agreed, following her out of the room.
As she started up the stairs the phone started ringing. Muttering about the pain she hurried back down the couple of steps she'd climbed and over to the phone in the kitchen.
"Hello, Hebert's residence," she greeted.
"Tay~!" Despite the phone not reaching her ears anymore she still flinched at the volume at which Vicky's voice came out of the phone.
"Ow, ow, ow." She held the phone away from her. "You're too loud," she hissed.
"Eep, sorry Tay," Vicky said, sounding at least mostly apologetic. After a moment she added, "... How was that too loud? These things don't even reach my ears anymore. So it couldn't have been into your ears."
"That's how loud you are," Taylor sighed as she took a seat at the kitchen table, "I'm also a bit sore right now on top of that so…"
"Sore? What have you been doing that would get you sore?" Taylor rolled her eyes at the way Vicky's tone turned playful halfway through.
"You fell into the gutter didn't you?" She sighed.
Taylor rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I messed up a bit while practicing and zapped myself," she said.
"Huh… I thought you were immune to electricity?"
"It wasn't electricity. I made a mistake and it backfired," she grumbled. She sniffed. She smelt like burnt cherries. "I'm just a little crispy right now and my everything is complaining about it."
"Ah, ow. I know what that's like," Vicky commiserated, "And on that count being stuck inside sucks. There's nothing to do but watch TV and even watching it upside down there's nothing interesting on."
Upside down? Taylor pushed that little tidbit aside. "I've been practicing, but I guess you wouldn't have anything new to try out, would you?"
"There's this new appendage I've got, but yeah, not really a 'practice' thing if you know what I mean… Is it really supposed to feel this natural, Tay? 'Cause it's kinda creeping me out," she asked, sounding a little worried.
"I… Guess? I mean, other than the amount of space these things take up I got used to mine really quickly," Taylor replied after a contemplative moment. "I'm still knocking things over every so often and my bathroom is way too small now."
"I guess I should just be happy that I don't have more than one tail," Vicky said, "Ugh, you know I only expected to go through one life-altering transformation in my life, you know?"
Taylor winced. "Sorry."
"Don't be," her friend sighed, "This isn't your fault, and I'll keep repeating it until you get it. Powers are weird."
"I know, but even Inari is confused and I haven't seen her confused about anything involving my powers since I got them," It was a bit frightening actually, "Quick question, you said your blood was tinged gold? How gold are we talking?"
"Uh, mostly red but every drop seems to have this gold lining on the edges no matter what angle you look at it from. It's kinda freaky, to be honest. Why?"
Taylor passed the information onto Inari, who simply nodded thoughtfully, before replying, "Inari was curious. I think she wants to get a look at you to try and figure this out."
"What's there to figure out? Weird power interaction. These things happen, Tay," Vicky said. Taylor could practically hear the shrug on the other end of the line. "Of course, now I can't rely on Ames to heal me up and you don't have that luxury either."
Taylor's ears perked up before going flat. "Amy can't heal you anymore?" On the table Inari perked up, her eyes fixed on the phone.
"No…" It was the first time Taylor had heard Vicky sound anything other than constantly upbeat. "I don't mind the tail and ears Tay. Honestly, I look great like this, but I can't touch Ames anymore and she can't touch me. She just does the whole zoned out, the world doesn't exist anymore thing that she did with you." She sounded like she was about to cry. "I can't even touch my own sister, Tay. How's that fair?!" And now Taylor could hear the sniffling and snorting as her friends started crying. It felt like a knife going through her.
"Vicky… I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I…" she trailed off helplessly
There was a loud snort. "Not your fault, Tay. Just stupid fucking powers being stupid fucking powers. You know she triggered because I got hurt, Tay?" Vicky said.
"I didn't know that," she said softly. No one really talked about how they got their powers.
"Well, she did. I got hurt thinking I was invincible and she triggered with the ability to heal me and now we can't even touch each other. It just isn't fair, Tay…" Vicky continued sniffling.
"It isn't fair…" Taylor agreed, sagging against the table. She shared a grimace with Inari. Vicky was not taking this well at all. "I'm so sorry Vicky-"
"STOP SAYING THAT! This isn't your fault!" Vicky shouted. Taylor winced and pulled away from the phone again. "Stop trying to blame yourself!"
"Kinda hard not to Vicky. She was there to check on me," Taylor replied. Their conversation lapsed as both of them fell silent. She was at a complete loss of words. How did you apologize for accidentally being part of the incident, potentially the inciting part, that made it impossible to even touch their sisters? How did you make up for that when they wouldn't even let you accept blame?
Searching for words she let her eyes wander the room. From the stacks of clean dishes waiting to be put away, her dad's forgotten lunch box on the counter, to Inari's concerned face, and finally to the tiara and earrings of her uniform that were sitting on the counter by the fridge where she had forgotten them after showing them to her father the day she had been sent home. The three garnet hearts with their little fox ears glimmered in the fluorescent lighting. She tilted her head to the side as she continued to try and find something to say. The change in angle allowed a sharp spark of blinding light to reflect off the foremost gemstone.
She blinked as the light, her eyes fixating on the symbol. Hope. She wasn't bringing much of that at the moment, was she? She looked down as Vicky's continued sniffling came from the phone. There had to be something she could do, words, actions, something. She was a hero now and that had to matter for something.
"Tay, sorry for being such a downer. I've gone and ruined the mood-" Vicky began through the sniffles.
"Don't. Don't beat yourself up about this Vicky," Taylor said, cutting in firmly, her eyes locked on her tiara. "This isn't your fault anymore than mine. We're just stuck with a bad hand. We're going to fix this. I promise you, we'll fix this." She hadn't a clue where to start, but she was supposed to be a god now, right? It couldn't be that hard to find the starting line.
"... That's a nice thought, Tay," Vicky said softly, "But I don't see how."
If she was being honest, neither did Taylor. "Look, I've got some kinda evolving powerset here, right? I'll figure something out. I'll find a way for you to give your sister a great big hug. I promise," she said, not really believing her words.
Vicky sniffled and a small giggle escaped her. "And now you're trying to sound like the big tough heroine, hmm? I'm fine Tay, really. Just… It's just going to take some getting used to," she sighed. There was a bang from the other end. "... Ow. Shield or not, apparently my ears don't like being smacked into my headboard."
Taylor snorted. She'd pulled that stunt a few times. "Just a warning, your ears and tail are quite sensitive. Try not to get them pinched in anything," she warned.
"Noted. Ow," Vicky deadpanned, sniffling a little still. "Sorry to just unload on you, Tay, but I just…"
"I get it, Vicky. I really do. Just wish I could give you a hug or something," Taylor sighed, "I'm guessing you haven't had many people to talk to about this?"
"Not a single person. We're all having a rough time over here, and because you're involved the PRT will get angry if I go and talk to any of my non-you friends about this," Vicky said, trailing off into muttered invectives after a moment she came back into audible range, "And I think Mom needs me downstairs again. Ugh."
"Take care then, Vicky," Taylor said, "And I promise I'll find a way-" Vicky cut her off.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm not going to tell you not to try, Tay, but I'm not holding my breath," Vicky sighed, "Can I call you tomorrow?"
"Sure. I'm not going to ignore a friend in need," she said.
"Talk to you later then, Tay."
"Talk to you later, Vicky. Stay safe."
"You too." The call ended with a click. Taylor sighed and looked down at Inari's expectant gaze.
"Can we do anything?" she asked as she stood up to hang up the phone.
"Depends. I take it Amy is no longer able to heal Victoria?" Inari asked.
"She gets the same reaction as with me," she replied.
"Hmm… I'd put money on her power locking up because it's trying to process divinity," the former goddess mused, "If she has, somehow, given Vicky even slightly divine biology it should make her biology just as incomprehensible as your own to mortal methods."
Taylor set the phone back down on its hook. "And where does that leave us?" she asked.
"... I'll have to consider our options, but to be entirely honest you might not be able to do much for quite a while. Years possibly," Inari said. Taylor sagged, her ears and tails drooping.
"I figured that was the case, but I'd like to at least try," she said. For the first time she was really hoping that Inari was being honest about her being a Goddess. This wasn't right.
"And you can, once you have a bit more power and training," Inari assured her.
Taylor nodded before giving herself a shake. "Right, shower, bath, being clean. Let's get that dealt with before I start questioning the universe," she said, starting back on her original course. However, as she mounted the first step the phone rang again.
Sharing an exasperated look with Inari she walked back to the phone. Picking it up again she said, "Hebert's residence, can I help you?" So what if her tone was just a bit aggressive.
To her surprise, Glenn's voice came from the phone."Taylor! How's being at home treating you?"
"Well enough I guess? Better than Vicky by the sounds of it," she said.
"Yeah… Yeah, I heard about that. Look, the thinkers are one hundred percent positive that whatever happened was entirely a power interaction and not your fault, Taylor," Glenn said seriously, "No one has been able to predict those, ever. How two powers interact is one of those things we can only find out through testing and let me tell you, there've been some really weird interactions over the years."
"Anything amusing?" She asked.
"A few. Maybe I'll regal you with a few I've seen sometime later, but Victoria Dallon's situation isn't what I called to talk about. You're coming in tomorrow instead of staying at home," Glenn said.
"Why?" She asked cautiously. Her eyes went wide as he told her. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN I'M DEBUTING ON FRIDAY?!"
A/N: Ello~ Long time since this story updated, but I've got a long list of ideas and never enough time to work on them~ Finally, we get to see the aftermath of Vicky's… Fluffiness. Not the happiest chapter I've written for this story, but serious topic require proper handling. Still trying to keep the overall tone upbeat. That's what makes TTP so much fun to write~
A thank you to my patrons on ~ Link is in the description below along with my discord server. Even if you don't want to throw a dollar my way please come on by the server. The more the merrier~
Oh, and sometime this month we'll probably be getting the art I commissioned in august.
Cheers~ *fluffy kitsune returns to school work*