Enter the Wyrm
A Novella in Ten Parts By Darth Marrs
Inspired by Doghead Thirteen's fabulous Enter the Dragon. It probably won't be as good, however. No trains, after all.
Summary: Taylor is a Greater Western Dragon. All other arguments are invalid.
Chapter One: In Which Danny Gets a Call
"Dockworkers, this is Danny."
"Is this Danny Hebert?"
"It is. How can I help you?"
"Oh, thank…I mean, good. Um, this is Darcy Walton from Camp Quinesuta. Something's happened to Taylor and we need…we think you need to come pick her up."
Danny sat up in his chair and quickly saved the draft Services Bid he'd been working on. "Is she okay?"
"Um, that's hard to say, sir. I mean, she says she isn't really in pain, just…really, really hungry. I just…you need to come pick her up, sir. I'm sorry." The line clicked dead.
"That little…" he muttered. A minute later, he had his PC shut down and stepped down the narrow office with its 30-year-old wooden paneling until he reached his boss's office.
"Eric, just got a call from Taylor's summer camp. Something happened and I have to go get her."
Eric Schelling had ten years and eighty pounds on Danny, with a bald pate that shone with sweat when not covered by his plaid fedora. He also had a granddaughter in Florida that he doted on endlessly that gave the two men a good, safe subject to discuss other than sports. "She okay?"
"No idea, the stupid little counselor wouldn't tell me."
"Well, it's not like you don't have enough vacation. Where are we on the 6th Street Bid?"
"On the shared drive for you. I finished the HUB and boilerplate language."
Eric waived him on. "Go, I'll take it from there."
Danny was in his truck ten minutes later, heading north. Fortunately, Camp Quinesuta was not even two hours away along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
As he left Brockton Bay going a few miles an hour faster than he probably should have, he couldn't help but think about maybe breaking down and buying a cell phone for Taylor. Ever since Annette died talking on one, he couldn't quite bring himself to buy new ones. The phones had always been her thing—she paid for the plan and the phones and he just accepted whatever she gave him. He wasn't even sure where to begin buying phones or setting up a plan.
Or how he'd pay for one.
He sped up, suddenly possessed by a need to make sure his little girl—the last remnant of Annette in his life—was okay. Being an early afternoon on a Wednesday in August, traffic was light enough that he had little trouble until he reached the outskirts of the lake. The narrow roads became crowded with tourist traffic and the approaching rush hour.
Finally, he saw the sign announcing the turn for Camp Quinesuta, where anyone aged 6-14 could find A Summer of Fun, A Lifetime of Memories.
The road narrowed to one lane, but at least it was paved. Northern red oaks and aspen trees lined the road, with only glimpses of the late afternoon sun reflecting off water through the trunks in the distance. He rolled down his window to let the fresh, humid air fill the cab of his old truck.
The sign of the camp spanned the road on a wooden billboard. Through the gates he could see the cabins. Down by the water, he could see a wood pier lined with canoes, and a sand volleyball court. Taylor always loved the camp when she was younger, and he hoped more than anything that she might recapture some small spark of that happiness given the dark year they'd spent coping with Annette's death.
However, he couldn't help but feel a certain trepidation when he pulled up by the main cabin and discovered a large, black truck with the letters PRT on the side taking up two parking spots.
PRT—Parahuman Response Team. What the hell was the Parahuman Response Team doing…?
Capes meant property damage and death. Danny's stomach clenched as if someone punched him. He brought the truck to a stop and climbed out just as two camp counselors and the owner herself, Mrs. McCormick, stepped out of the building.
"Mr. Hebert," Mrs. McCormick said. She was a moderately fit woman with an overdone perm and ordinarily a manic smile. Whenever he dropped Taylor off, she always gave the impression that her campers were going to have fun, or she'd kill them trying. Now, though, he couldn't see any trace of that smile.
"What happened to Taylor? Where is she?"
"She's in the kitchen. Before you go…"
Danny barged past her, only to come to a halt at the line of PRT agents that formed a hemisphere around the open passageway to the kitchen. The agents all wore bulky, heavy black armor and what almost looked like flame throwers on their backs.
"What the hell is going on here?" he demanded.
Mrs. McCormick caught up to him.
"Mr. Hebert, please listen! Last night, Taylor snuck out of her cabin. We…she's been unhappy here without her friend Emma, and we think she slipped out just for some quiet time. She came back just after moon-rise and told Darcy that she'd fallen and hit her head on a large rock near the lake."
"When she woke up this morning…she was different."
McCormick shrugged. "Mr. Hebert, you'll just have to see for yourself."
As much as Danny wanted to deny it, in the back of his mind he had a sinking feeling. The presence of the PRT could only mean there was a cape they considered dangerous. McCormick's refusal to tell him specifically what happened implied pretty strongly that the cape in question was his daughter.
One of the agents stepped aside. He felt surprised when a woman spoke from within the otherwise genderless armor. "She's not shown any signs of aggression toward people, sir, but if she does, get away as fast as you can."
"That's my daughter."
"Sir, with respect, that doesn't always matter in cases like these."
That clenched it. Somehow, Taylor was now a parahuman.
Fighting back both an urge to cry and to run into the kitchen screaming Taylor's name, he instead crept toward the large kitchen. Despite the log-cabin feel, the kitchen looked large and modern, equipped to feed a camp that regularly housed a hundred teenagers for weeks at a time. At least it was when Danny first took the tour four years ago. Now, though, it looked as if a hurricane had blown through.
Cabinet doors littered the floor where they'd been ripped off the walls. In the corner, two industrial-sized stainless steel refrigerators weren't just open—like the cabinets, their doors had been ripped off and the appliances themselves ripped apart.
He heard the sound of crunching metal—like a salvage yard compacting old cars. He stepped further into the kitchen, careful to move around the cabinet doors and even shattered, broken cabinets, until he cleared the long island in the middle of the food preparation area and saw a figure sitting in the corner holding what looked like a cast iron skillet large enough to cook a lasagna.
Well, most of one. Even as he watched, the figure lifted the skillet to her mouth and…
Golden, inhuman eyes looked up at him from an achingly familiar face. When he dropped her off, Taylor was at that gawky stage where she hadn't quite caught up to her body yet. Tall, lanky and undeveloped, nonetheless he saw the promise of her mother's elegance and beauty in her large eyes and the wide, expressive mouth.
Now…it was still Taylor, but somehow…more.
The luxuriously dark, curly hair had somehow gone straight with curls only at the ends, and the streak of white that began on the left side of her forehead ran throughout, somehow making the rest look even blacker. He saw the hint of…were those pointed ears sticking out to either side?
Her face… Her face looked stunning, almost as if he were looking at an airbrushed version of the girl he dropped off. Or her mother. He couldn't see any sign of the acne she'd complained about on her chin or nose. Somehow her mouth no longer looked too large for her face; her large eyes made her look powerfully expressive, not awkward.
But those eyes… when they looked up at him, Danny almost turned and ran. He saw no sign of his daughter in the golden, reptilian eyes that stared at him. They carried their own faint glow in the shadows of the corner where she sat, clad in the camp's orange T-shirt and a pair of her favorite shorts.
Even as she stared at him, she took another bite of the skillet. When she opened her mouth, he saw her teeth looked like steel—sharp steel that bit through the cast iron the way he'd bite through a hoagie.
Even her voice. God, even her voice was different. He could still hear Taylor in it, but with her words he heard a second tone—a deeper, menacing rumble that could not have come from her alone.
"Are you okay?"
"I…don't think so." She took another bite, and then to his utter shock she crumbled the remaining skillet up easier than he could crush an aluminum can, and devoured it all in three massive bites. "I'm so hungry. It hurts."
Moving slowly, as if approaching a dangerous beast, Danny stepped to within a few feet of his daughter and knelt down. "Taylor...kiddo, what happened?"
"I just wanted to go for a walk." She sobbed suddenly; the bitonal quality of her voice made the sound unearthly. "Tamara said it was going to be a full moon, and I just…last year, before mom, we used to…"
She wiped her eyes. "There was an old petroglyph in the forest. Mrs. McCormick said it was from the people even before the Algonquins. I was looking at it, and it looked like some of the symbols were moving! But when I tried to look closer, I slipped and hit my head. And…" She swallowed. "Anyway, I came back and told Darcy I hit my head. I had really weird dreams, but when I woke up I was so hungry I couldn't think straight. I…I scared everyone, didn't I?"
"Little bit, yeah."
"What do we do now?"
"Sweetie, I have no idea."
He stood up and offered her a hand. She took it hesitantly—at first he thought because she was scared. But when he saw the black, razor-sharp claws at the end of her fingers, he realized she was being careful not to hurt him. He barely had to help—she rose smoothly of her own accord.
As she did so, Danny got another shock and tried to clamp down on the urge to go find any boys and randomly beat them up.
She blushed, likely even more aware than he of that fact that she now filled her shirt to overflowing. But the coloring was wrong. Instead of turning red, her cheeks took on an odd, almost violet hue. She glanced down at a patently un-Hebert chest.
"Well, I look like a freak and I eat steel, but at least I have boobs now. Emm's going to be so jealous. Silver lining? Um, wait!"
She darted away into a store room. He heard metal shrieking; following he found her in a pantry stuffing her face with what looked like a raw rack of ribs, bone and all, while holding a large can of kerosene.
Instead of answering, she washed the ribs down with the kerosene.
"God, that doesn't seem right," she muttered. "But it's so…urgh." She ate the can, too.
Danny had gone a little numb to her eating habits, which let him now consider the fact that his daughter was evidently a cape, and the entire camp knew she was a cape. In fact, looking at her, he didn't think there was any way to keep her cape status a secret at all.
Over his shoulder, he could see the PRT agents waiting. He didn't know much about capes, but what he did know seemed to indicate constant fighting. The good ones joined the Protectorate, a federally-sponsored program for capes overseen by the PRT. The bad ones became villains. The really bad ones could become city-ending threats, like the Slaughterhouse Nine or Lung, in his own home town.
Taylor had drifted back to the remnants of one of the refrigerators. As he watched, she lifted the four-hundred-pound appliance with one arm so she could reach the back and rip off the cooling coils. She ate them like spaghetti.
"Taylor, I'll be…right over there."
"Okay," she said, before slurping up more copper tubing.
The agents were looking a little uncomfortable as Taylor finished eating the entire damned fridge. He found the woman who spoke to him earlier.
"So…um, my daughter appears to be a cape."
"It appears that way, yes sir." He chose not to comment on the Arizona-level dryness of her tone.
"She recognized me. Seemed to be careful not to hurt me. But…I'm really at a loss on what to do about this. She can't just return to school as if nothing happened. I guess…what do I do now?"
"As long as she cooperates and doesn't become a threat?' The woman glanced into the kitchen. Taylor was now eating the second refrigerator, as well as pouring a huge vat of oatmeal down her throat. "The owner said she was fourteen?"
"She turned fourteen in June, that's right."
"And you're in Brockton Bay?"
Danny nodded. Then he winced at the sudden explosion in the kitchen. He ducked; all around the agents assumed fighting stances, holding nozzles that sprayed the famous containment foam they used to capture capes.
"Sorry!" Taylor called from the kitchen. "Didn't think that would happen!"
"Are you okay?" Danny called, genuinely afraid to look.
"Um…don't come in, okay? The…I didn't think the propane tank would blow up like that. I mean…it's gone now. But I need another shirt. And…holy mackerel, I'm stacked. I could hurt people with these things. Emma's going to be so jealous!"
Fortunately, Mrs. McCormick had the foresight to gather all Taylor's things before Danny even arrived. The agent he spoke to volunteered to take Taylor a shirt. Moments later Taylor followed the agent out of the kitchen, looking sheepish. Other than black scuffs on her cheeks, it didn't look like a propane tank blew up in her face.
"Well, won't do that again," she muttered. She didn't appear to even notice the six agents; or if she did, they didn't bother her. Her growling stomach sounded like a thunderclap. "God, I'm so hungry!"
"Kid, I just…you just ate a whole kitchen."
"I know that, Dad! I don't understand either." The bitonal quality took on a bestial growl. "I'm hungry."
"Well, let's get you home," Danny said. "And then…then we'll figure out what to do."
They stepped out onto the front porch of the main cabin. Danny looked but couldn't find any of the campers or other counselors. "Where is everyone?"
"There all in the Pennacook and Mohegan cabins," Taylor said, motioning with her hand toward the edge of the lake. "They all smell pretty scared. Guess it's my fault."
Behind them, Danny saw the lead PRT agent making a note.
"You can smell them?" he asked.
"Yeah. Smell 'em, hear 'em. Katie Sumner is complaining about how I ruined the last day of camp and how they shouldn't let me back next year. Timmy Cooledge wet his bed last night, and they haven't let him take a shower yet. Poor kid. And…oh. OH."
Danny froze at the second exclamation, because that bestial, lower tone grew dominant in her voice. She froze next to the truck, sniffing the air with a look of anticipatory glee on her perfect, air-brushed face.
"Oh, that smells so good," she muttered. She drifted into the open area of the drive.
"Taylor, what's wrong?"
"I smell food," she said. Her voice had dropped two octaves and taken on a visceral quality—in that it rumbled so powerfully he could feel it in his gut. "I'm so hungry."
And in that instant, Taylor Hebert was gone. In her place stood…stood…
"Well shit, she's a dragon," one of the agents said.
Yeah. A dragon
Her body was twice as long as his truck, and her thick, powerful tail as long as that. She stood on four huge, powerful legs while a pair of wings that shaded the entire camp stretched out into the air. Her scales were pure black, save for streaks of silver that ran down her flanks and along the flight edges of her wings. A massive head rose up in the air, framed by three horns as long as Danny's legs from the back of her long, draconian skull.
She spun her head to Danny and pulled back massive lips to reveal a mouth full of sharp, steely teeth.
"THERE'S COWS!" she declared with a child's tone but a monster's voice. Her words rang in his brain like a cathedral bell.
She took two four-legged stutter steps and flapped her wings. The wind lifted Danny clear off his feet and threw him into one of the agents; the others fell like he did and watched from prone positions as the massive creature his daughter turned into shot into the air with far more speed than something that size should have been capable of.
"Simmons, get on the horn. We need back up!"
Danny disentangled himself. "Wait, she's not going to hurt anybody! She just smelled some cows."
The agent he spoke to picked herself up. "Mr. Hebert, at this stage I'm not sure that matters. She's a dragon. She's going to cause fear and property damage no matter what she does. We've got to get this contained."
They didn't have long to wait.
"Got her!" the agent named Simmons said. "She's…wow. She made thirty miles in just under a minute. She's in Loudon, on a beef farm."
This time it was Danny's turn to pause. "She smelled beef from thirty miles away?"
The agents ignored him. "Simmons, drive. The rest, load up and move out. I've notified the PRT ENE and they have Protectorate back up on the way."
"That's my daughter!" Danny said.
The PRT van took off anyway. Without a moment's hesitation Danny climbed into his truck and followed after.
It made for a quick drive—the PRT van put on its lights and sirens. The roads cleared like the sea before Moses. People knew to clear a path for fire trucks, police or ambulances. But if a PRT transport had on its lights, it meant capes were doing something bad. People really got out of the way then.
By the time they reached the Jedediah Smith Farms, a line of cars had already gathered along the shoulder of the road. The farmers themselves stood in a clump by the main gates of what looked like a public farm and ranch. One of the women was crying into the shoulder of her husband. In the open field beyond, Danny felt his stomach clench again.
Dragon-Taylor was surrounded by dead cows, twenty of them at least. Even as he watched, she grabbed one in a massive claw and tossed the one-ton animal into the air like a toy. However, when she then shot a billow of white-yellow fire at it, only to then snap it into her mouth, Danny jumped as if slapped.
With a flap of her wings that caused a wind they could feel from a football field away, Taylor hopped over to a large, orange tractor. She picked it up with her claws, ripped it in half like a loaf of bread, and ate both halves. She then hopped back to the field of dead cows and resumed tossing, flaming and eating them.
The PRT agents rushed inside the fence but made no move to approach.
Danny… Dragon or not, that was his daughter. He climbed out of his truck and walked stiff-legged through the gate toward her. None of the PRT agents tried to stop him.
He could hear people shouting warnings; the husband farmer shouted, "Are you insane, man?"
Danny ignored them and continued walking. In the time it took him to cross the field, Taylor ate five more cows. Closer, he could see that she barely had to chew. As grotesque as it was to watch, her teeth were so powerful each bite looked like a giant industrial chainsaw, reducing the whole cow to hamburger; to sludge with the second. And then she swallowed it all.
"OH GOD, THIS IS SO GOOD," she said.
All hint of Taylor's voice was gone, lost in the deep, visceral voice of the dragon that rumbled through his head. And yet, somehow Danny could still hear his little girl in the sound. Maybe not in the sound of her voice, but in the way she spoke. The word choice and how she pronounced the words. That was, he recognized, Annette's influence on their daughter. She was always careful to enunciate carefully.
She grabbed another cow. Toss, flame, chomp, chomp, swallow. Again and again.
"HI, DAD." Toss, flame, chomp, chomp, swallow. "NOW I KNOW WHY YOU LIKE STEAK SO MUCH! THIS STUFF IS AWESOME!"
He could see a flinging piece of cow intestine stuck between… nope. She slurped it in. Somehow. Could dragons even slurp?
"How many cows have you eaten?"
"THIRTY NINE SO FAR," she said. "FORTY, NOW." Toss, flame, chomp, chomp, swallow.
She didn't bother to count cows forty-one through forty-five. Behind them, along the edge of the fence, he saw police and another PRT transport arrive.
"So, ah, you realize you're stealing, right?"
In any other circumstance, seeing a multi-ton, forty-foot long dragon with an eighty-foot wingspan duck her head down guiltily might have been funny. "BUT…I WAS REALLY, REALLY HUNGRY!"
"Taylor, these cows were…"
Toss, flame, chomp, chomp, swallow.
"…somebody's livelihood. You just ate an entire herd!"
Taylor didn't bother flaming the last cow. She picked it up with her mouth and it disappeared just as fast. Only when there were no more cows and no more tractors did she settle down on the grass. She turned her massive head until her snout came within inches of Danny. He could feel a deep, profound heat with each breath, along with a smell of barbecue and diesel.
"DAD, I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. I WAS SO HUNGRY IT HURT."
"Are you hungry now?"
"NO, JUST REALLY, REALLY SLEEPY."
"Taylor, I know this is scary, I just…"
"I'M NOT SCARED, DAD. I'M A DRAGON. I SAW OTHER DRAGONS IN MY DREAMS LAST NIGHT. SOMETHING KILLED THEM; I'M THE LAST. BUT I'M NOT SCARED."
"Taylor…sweetie, we need to go home now. Can you…be normal for me?"
The giant head shook side to side. "DAD, THIS IS MY NORMAL. I'M A DRAGON. MY SMALL FORM…IT'S NOT WHO I AM ANY MORE. IT'S JUST A MAGICAL DISGUISE."
"Magic." Danny snapped his fingers. "Then I need you in your disguise so we can go home. It's a human world, Taylor. At least until we figure everything out, we need you to stay human."
There wasn't any morphing effect like in the movies. Just a wash of almost blistering heat, and then Taylor standing in the field. Rather than the T-shirt and shorts she wore before she changed, she was now draped in a shimmering black and silver dress that seemed to be made of the night sky.
He could feel the cameras on his back, and suddenly knew that at least a hundred people were videoing his daughter.
"Are you mad at me, dad?"
"Taylor, I'm still trying to come to grips with the fact you're a dragon. I don't have the emotional energy to be mad right now. Maybe later."
He was so caught up in taking care of his daughter, he didn't notice the two motorcycles until they were almost right on them.
He turned, a protective arm around Taylor despite the fact she could probably have thrown him into Maine, and watched as two real life superheroes arrived on the motorcycles. The first was a man in burnished chrome-blue body armor with a helmet that left his bearded chin free. He stood almost seven feet tall when he climbed off the large, Tinker-tech motorcycle.
The second figure barely came up to his chest. She wore military-style jump pants cinched with a bandana in the colors of the American flag, with a bristling tactical vest and another red-white-and blue bandana as a mask for her chin and mouth. At her side, Danny saw a glistening cloud of indescribably green energy change from a large shotgun to a smaller pistol, which she holstered.
He was looking at Brockton Bay's own Armsmaster and Miss Militia.
Taylor, however, was looking at Armsmaster's bike.
"Oh, that smells good," she said in a deepening tone of voice. "OH MY."
Armsmaster looked alarmed.