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The Journey Continues [Worm AU fic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Sep 17, 2022.

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  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    The Journey Continues

    Years ago, Sophia Hess and Taylor Hebert destroyed a great threat and saved the world. Today, they're still together, though Sophia is starting to find life a little bland. So when she encounters the chance to experience more adventure, of course she takes it.

    [A/N 1: This chapter is beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    [A/N 2: This is a direct sequel to Shadow Stalker: Advent of a Hero. As such, Sophia isn't actually a bitch, and she and Taylor are a couple. This story is set years after the first one; Sophia and Taylor are both in their late twenties.]

    Disclaimers:
    1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.

    2) I'm not going to be following canon too closely in this fic, for reasons that will quickly become apparent.

    3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.



    Part One: Prologues (next)
     
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  2. Threadmarks: Part One: Prologues
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    The Journey Continues

    Part One: Prologues

    Prologue One: The Dream

    Sophia dreamed.

    She was aware that it was a dream, because she'd been here many times before.

    This very dream, unchanged from beginning to end.

    It was less a trip through fantasy-land than a replay of a memory that had been burned into her brain.

    A memory ten years old, yet the years did not dim it, nor did age fade its vivid nature.

    In her dream, she knelt behind a wall constructed of Tinker-made material. Engineered from Endbringer bones, it had been described to her as being near-impervious to any destructive force known to mankind. The cracks worming their way across its surface gave the lie to that.

    Placing her hand on the wall, she could feel the same repeated vibrations that were transmitted through the ground beneath her feet. Each set was subtly different, which was lucky; the last thing they wanted was a set of harmonics to build up and wreck the planet. She knew what the vibrations were, of course. Once upon a time, she'd been there the very first time they'd been uttered.

    They were numbers. Counting upward. Cataloguing a growing strength.

    Taylor Hebert was standing on a blasted hilltop half a mile away, muttering the numbers under her breath, and the half-spoken words were still disturbing weather patterns halfway around the globe. She was moving as little as possible, and still her very presence had denuded the hill and its environs of what little plant life had been growing there, just from the muted thunder of her pulse and the steady stream of her breathing.

    When she'd faced the Endbringers, she'd amped herself up to the point that she was able to punch Behemoth's shattered core out through his back, and beat Leviathan to death with his own tail. The Simurgh had attempted to sing at her, and Taylor had shouted the words shut up so loudly that the sonic vibrations had disintegrated the pseudo-angelic creature into a thousand splinters.

    She'd also demolished more than a hundred buildings, killed half a dozen heroes, and deafened everyone else outside the Endbringer shelters at the time, but that was a small price to pay. Sophia had tried to warn them to stay back out of the way, but some people just wouldn't listen. At the end of the day, the Simurgh was dead, so all had been forgiven.

    The Endbringers hadn't come back after that, but then Sophia and Taylor had learned of the real threat. The doom that hung over them all. And thus, Taylor stood on the hilltop on an otherwise uninhabited Earth, gathering power. Sophia knew that this gambit was perhaps the riskiest thing they'd tried yet, but it was apparently the one with the best chance of success. The more power Taylor gathered into herself, the more she pressed on the fabric of reality. If she took a step, entire worlds shook under the footfall.

    It was when she was amping up to face Behemoth that she'd made the discovery. Up to ten thousand or so, she had to count the individual levels, or risk hurting herself by adding them on too quickly. But once she passed that threshold, she could count up by ten at a time. For each multiple of ten, she could increase her amp-up rate by the same number.

    Sophia didn't know how many versions of Taylor Hebert were adding their strength to the 'real' one, but it had to be nearly up to a quadrillion by now. Taylor had been at it for more than twenty-four hours without food or rest, head down, mumbling her numbers as she counted the amps she was adding.

    Elsewhere, a plan devised by a crack team of Thinkers was in operation. Images of a strange, unearthly woman's face were being shown to Scion, then they were morphing that face into Taylor's. Over and over and over again. Sophia didn't like it; in fact, she hated it. But it was their best chance of winning, so she went along with it.

    Taylor counted. Reality creaked and strained. The ground vibrated. A faint fog of dust hung in the air.

    And then Sophia's earpiece spoke the words she'd been waiting for.

    "He's coming."

    The same signal was transmitted to the earpiece Taylor was wearing—anything she wore or held was impervious to her Breaker effect—but she showed no sign at first. The numbers continued on for a few more seconds. And then she stopped, just as the golden man arrived.

    Every picture Sophia had seen of Scion showed a mournful visage. She knew why, now, but it had always been a fact of life. Water was wet. The sky was blue. Behemoth was an asshole. Scion was sad.

    And now Behemoth was dead, and Scion's expression showed curiosity rather than sadness. In the binoculars that Sophia gingerly focused on the meeting, there may have even been a tinge of hope in his expression.

    At first, Taylor didn't even look up. Her hair barely moved in the fitful wind—picking up, now that she'd stopped counting—and her long-coat could've been made of lead. She tightened her fists inside her leather gauntlets; Sophia could hear the creaking from where she was. Everyone could hear the creaking.

    Taylor drew a deep breath, and it was like the air pressure had dropped. It hadn't, of course, but Sophia's ears felt like they wanted to pop anyway. Raising her head, Taylor looked at Scion.

    Then, without so much as a flicker of telegraphing the blow, she brought her fist up from waist level and punched him.

    Scion had been attacked many times, by many parahumans; Sophia was certain that he'd been punched before. However, she could well believe that he'd never been punched this hard before.

    Even without a single level of amp, Taylor was a trained boxer. She had a lightweight frame, but long hours of training in Harry's Gym had layered muscle on her arms and given her the technique to put all the weight of her body behind a blow. Before the Endbringers, before she'd soundly defeated Alexandria in a charity sparring match, she'd gone toe-to-toe with Lung and thrashed him to within an inch of his life, with only a few dozen levels of amp to call upon.

    And now, a quadrillion versions of Taylor Hebert laid a perfect uppercut into the point of Scion's jaw as Sophia hastily ducked behind the Tinker-made wall. A shockwave thundered across the already-devastated landscape, causing a few more cracks to spread across the wall. On the tiny screen that had been set up, the picture wavered but it was possible to see that Scion's head had … shattered, into a million glittering shards. An instant later, it reformed; he stared at her as though unable to understand what had just happened. Or perhaps (as was later theorised) some of the shock of that first punch had transmitted back to the real body and briefly stunned him.

    Whichever it was, Taylor predictably gave zero fucks whatsoever. She hit him again and again, still amping up, her arms and fists blurring as she unloaded combination after combination into his body and head. The first blow had released the equivalent energy of a fifty-megaton nuke, all but a meagre fraction channelled directly into the golden form, and the following ones were even more powerful. Scion's avatar began to crack under the relentless onslaught, blinding white light flaring outward, searing all it touched … except for Taylor. Unscathed, she leaned in against the gathering storm, her coat flapping behind her like a cape.

    "We need to go!" shouted March. As she turned her head, one of the rabbit-ears of her costume stuck up above the ad hoc shelter, and vanished in a puff of ash. "Door us out of here!"

    "Not yet!" Sophia snarled. They'd been about ready to roll when, in the worst example of bad timing in the history of bad timing, word had come through that March had attacked Flechette and left her with a severe concussion. Lily was going to be unable to carry through her part of the plan, so March had been drafted. "Vista, is it ready?"

    "When you are," Missy replied tensely, holding the very special umbrella that had been prepared for this moment.

    The rolling thunder that was Taylor's attack continued. The glaring light grew brighter, until it looked like the sky was awash with white flame. The heat was oppressive. Sophia began to sweat. Come on … come on …

    And then, with one final thboooooom that nearly deafened Sophia, even through the Tinker-made ear protection, Taylor broke through. The avatar had been shattered, however temporarily. They had access to Scion himself.

    "Now," whispered Taylor. The single word blew up a wave of scorched earth in all directions. It would still be echoing across the land hours later.

    "Now!" shouted Sophia.

    "Now!" echoed Missy, slapping the umbrella into March's hand. "Get it right!"

    "Okay, okay, fuck you," complained March. She ran her hand down over the umbrella, infusing it with the ability that she shared with Flechette. Then she threw it, straight as an arrow, toward Taylor.

    Taylor's head came around, and she caught the umbrella with one gauntleted hand; in one smooth move, she swivelled and threw it into the hole in spacetime that had once held Scion's avatar. As it vanished, Vista let out a great sigh. "Oh, thank fuck. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm."

    For the umbrella was no ordinary device for keeping the sun or rain off. The pieces to make it had been painstakingly assembled, piece by piece, in an endeavour that had cost close to a billion dollars. This was mainly because once Vista's influence on it was released, it was actually closer to a mile in diameter when opened … which it automatically did, after it was thrown through the hole.

    A hole a mile wide would've been nothing to sneeze at, but also built into the umbrella was a Tinker device designed by Leet and re-engineered by Dragon to mimic Vista's power upward. Later analysis of the footage collected from the micro-camera attached to Taylor's goggles showed that when it encountered Scion's body (and ploughed through it like a laser through a snowbank) it was three hundred miles wide and growing exponentially.

    Sophia had no idea what thoughts had gone through Scion's mind before he died, and she didn't care. She was just glad he was dead.

    <><>​

    Prologue Two: The Breakfast

    Sophia stirred and rolled over, as she always did when the dream ended. Pushing the covers back, she padded into the lounge, then out onto the back patio. Sunrise was still some hours away, but she settled herself on the porch swing, letting the night's chill in the cushions wake her up a little and remind her that she was back in the real world.

    The dream always left her drifting a little, afterward.

    We won, she reminded herself. We beat him. We survived.

    But what if we hadn't?


    A hand draped over her shoulder and she looked up with a smile, placing her own hand atop it.

    "The dream again?" asked Taylor, her voice a murmur. Without any amp behind it, it didn't destabilise reality, but it always shook Sophia's world.

    "Yeah." Sophia reached up and pulled Taylor down onto her lap. "I always get the what-if's, after."

    Taylor snuggled into her embrace. "I don't blame you. So much could've gone wrong. But, you know, it didn't."

    That was Taylor all over. So strong, so confident, so brave. She'd stunned Sophia on their first real meeting, and the feeling had never truly gone away.

    They sat like that until the sun rose.

    <><>​

    "So, what's slated for today?" asked Sophia as she carried the plate of bacon and eggs over to Taylor. "Anything I need to prep for?"

    "Mmm, thanks, hon." Taylor put her arm around Sophia's robe-clad waist and leaned against her girlfriend's side for a moment. "Nothing too strenuous. I think I've got a ribbon-cutting ceremony at about eleven or so." Her nose wrinkled to show how much she was looking forward to that.

    Sophia ruffled Taylor's hair and chuckled. "Such is the life of the leader of the Protectorate. I'll stick with Brockton Bay, thanks. Keeping the Wards in one city from running amok is more my speed."

    "Gee, thanks." The sarcasm in Taylor's voice could've been cut with a knife. It would've required Flechette to empower the knife, but that was just how strong it was. "Swap you any day."

    "Haha, nope." Sophia sat down on her side of the table and applied herself to her breakfast. "The Duumvirate is busy cleaning up Cauldron's mess, and you're the only other person they know who can do the job. Better than them, even."

    "I still think they're upset with me for accidentally giving Eidolon an aneurysm when I yelled at the Simurgh," Taylor said. "But he was warned. You personally warned him. When I get past a certain level of amp, I'm dangerous to everyone and everything around me. And I was way past that limit."

    Sophia shrugged, swallowed a bite of egg, and waved her fork. "He thought that just because he could get up close and personal with Behemoth, he could handle your power."

    Taylor growled under her breath, then took a sip of her morning coffee. "If I had a dollar for every idiot who thought they could out-power me, just because they start at a higher level …"

    "… we'd both be able to retire rich," agreed Sophia with a grin. "Well, they learned. It only took them about five years before the various villainous Masters learned it was a bad idea to try to get into your head."

    "So. Many. Bleeding. Eyesockets," Taylor groused, rolling her own eyes. "That sort of thing is still gross as hell, just saying."

    "Imagine what it's like from their side," Sophia suggested impishly, then picked up the briefing sheet. "Wilbourne says Alcott's predicting the next week to run smoothly with Accord's plans, so there's that at least."

    "Any suggestions from Calvert?"

    Thomas Calvert, briefly the supervillain known as Coil, had been living in a comfortable cell with all modern conveniences and luxuries for the last few years. He'd been asked on a daily basis what policy changes he would suggest for the next twenty-four hours. So far, it was working out.

    Sophia scanned farther down. "Just minor ones. Wilbourne's signed off on them."

    "Good. Do it." Taylor finished off her breakfast and stood up. "I need to show up at the office before the ribbon-cutting. How do I look?"

    "Like the woman who saved the world." Sophia got up as well and moved around the table. "Go get 'em, tiger. Show that ribbon who's boss." Pulling Taylor into an embrace, she shared a kiss with the woman she loved.

    "Yeah, right." Taylor rolled her eyes faux-complainingly, but she returned the kiss. "You take care, too."

    "Hah. Once my desk is clear, I'm thinking I might take a walk and see what I can see at the street level. Hell, I might even stop a mugging for old times' sake."

    "Smartass." Taylor pulled Sophia's head in until their foreheads touched. "Kick their asses for me."

    "Aye aye, ma'am." Sophia stepped back and watched as Taylor subvocalised the word 'door'. The portal popped open immediately, showing Taylor's office on the other side. Taylor went through it, and the portal closed behind her.

    Sophia hummed to herself as she cleared the breakfast table and loaded the dishwasher. The life she had with Taylor was … restful. Domestic. They took turns cooking and cleaning, and ignored the fact that Taylor was Sophia's boss. Or rather, Sophia was totally fine with Taylor being her boss. After more than ten years together, they each knew how the other thought anyway.

    But still, Sophia craved a little excitement every now and again. Not by sleeping with someone else—she wasn't stupid, and she loved Taylor far too much—but by going on the occasional patrol just like one of the grunts, to prove she could still kick ass and take names with the best of them.

    Not that there was much street crime to be had anymore in Brockton Bay. Which meant she just had to look harder.

    <><>​

    Prologue Three: The Discovery

    "Shadow Stalker to Console." Sophia knew she didn't have to do this if she didn't want to—she wasn't a hard-charging glory-hound like Armsmaster had been back in the day—but she actually enjoyed it. "Commencing patrol."

    "Console to Shadow Stalker," the reply came back immediately. Sophia recognised the voice of Dire Wolf, one of her up-and-coming Wards. "Cleared to patrol."

    "Copy. Shadow Stalker, out." Sophia let go the pressel—some preferred HUDs, and more power to them, but she preferred something she could identify if it needed fixing in the field—and ran to the edge of the roof. As she hit the open air, she shifted seamlessly to her shadow form, gliding out over the street with her semi-tangible cloak flaring.

    As she crossed the parapet of her target building, she went solid again, touching down without missing a beat. This was what she loved about being a superhero; running the rooftops, dancing an unseen ballet far above the streets. It got her blood pounding every time, the adrenaline pumping through her veins.

    On she ran, enjoying the snap and pull of her muscles and the wind at her face. Part of her attention was tuned to the police radio scanner feeding into her left ear, part to the PRT channel in her right ear, and part to visually checking her surroundings. She could tell a jimmied door from fifty yards away in the dark, and anticipate a mugging from body language two minutes before it was going to happen.

    Not that either happened all that much in Brockton Bay, these days. It was well-known that Breaker hailed from there, and she still had a proprietary interest in the place. If criminal activity (especially cape criminal activity) started a resurgence anywhere in or near her city with enough power or numbers that the local PRT and Protectorate couldn't handle, she was liable to show up and express her displeasure. The word on the street was "Fuck that". So anyone feeling a particular need to commit a flashy crime without coming into close contact with the national head of the Protectorate went somewhere else. Nobody wanted to mess with Breaker.

    Which was why Sophia blinked in surprise when she saw someone running with a purse, clearly snatched from the woman who was attempting pursuit with minimal success. Holy shit. I don't believe it.

    For half a second, she considered unslinging the Tinkertech repeating crossbow—Flechette had become a good friend over the years, and had recommended her own weaponsmith—and treating the bag-snatcher to a dose of tranquilizer, or maybe some confoam. But then she smiled. Like she'd told Taylor, it had been a while since she last got down and dirty on the street, and maybe she would get to beat up a mugger. Show the kids that being nearly thirty doesn't mean I'm over the hill.

    "Shadow Stalker, in pursuit of purse snatcher," she reported crisply. "Hopewell and Cameron."

    Leaping from the building, she turned to shadow again and swooped downward. The purse snatcher had a head start but she was faster, and she passed over his head with feet to spare. Then she turned solid again and—as she was falling—kicked him hard enough in the chest to send his feet flying out from under him. He landed hard on his ass, while she performed a backflip to end up on her feet.

    "Let me guess," she said as she retrieved the handbag from where he'd dropped it. "It's not your fault, you had a terrible upbringing, and your mommy never taught you not to take stuff that wasn't yours."

    "I, uh," he began, but the impact had knocked the wind out of him. Wheezing, he sat up and tried to speak again. "Going-going to sue." A pause while he mustered his strength for another speech. "Cape-cape brutality. Hit me too hard."

    "Oh, honey." Sophia shook her head as she expertly frisked him and deprived him of two wallets, a switchblade and a crappy-looking .32 revolver. "You have no idea about being hit hard. My girlfriend once punched a living god to death. Now, sit right there and think about what you're going to say to the judge."

    Shuffling him over to a parking meter, she zip-cuffed his hands—behind his back—then attached them to the meter. Then she cuffed his ankles, just to discourage him from any fancy acrobatics.

    The woman came puffing up then, and Sophia handed the handbag back. "There you are, ma'am. I'm pretty sure he hasn't had the chance to go through it yet."

    "Thank you, Shadow Stalker." The woman, a grandmotherly type, beamed at her. "It's heroes like you who keep the city safe for the rest of us."

    "You're very welcome." Sophia kept her tone light, but she couldn't help the smile that spread across her face under the mask. She'd been in the hero game for nearly fifteen years now, but a simple thank-you like that never failed to make her day a little brighter. "Would you like to stick around to give a statement for the police?"

    "Yes, I would," the lady decided, giving the would-be purse snatcher an unfriendly look. "It's the least I can do after you put in the hard work catching him."

    Sophia refrained from explaining that the capture had been essentially light exercise, and instead keyed her radio. "Shadow Stalker to Console. Purse snatcher apprehended on Cameron Street, next to … hm." She looked around for a landmark. "A shop called 'Curio's'. If you can send police our way, the victim is ready to give a statement."

    "Console to Shadow Stalker." Dire Wolf sounded impressed, even as he tried to sound professional. "There's a unit nearby, responding now, over."

    "Shadow Stalker copies. Out." Sophia let go the pressel and half-turned her head to keep an eye on the purse-snatcher while she transferred his illicit belongings to an evidence bag. As she waited for the police, a tiny query kept turning over in her head.

    She knew Cameron Street; in fact, she'd been along it not a week previously, looking for an anniversary present for Taylor. And there'd been no shop called Curio's on the street then. Nor did it look like it was newly moved in; there was a patina on the brass plaque that made it look like it had been there since forever.

    The arrival of the police unit distracted her briefly. She released her suspect into the hands of the cops, gave a brief statement, then waved goodbye to the lady with the handbag. All the time she was doing this, she was facing away from Curio's, yet she could feel the itch between her shoulder-blades that said someone was watching her.

    Slowly turning to face the shopfront, she nodded to herself as though she'd just come to a decision.

    Stepping forward, she pushed the door open.



    End of Part One

    [A/N: I've checked with @billymorph and he's given me permission to use Curio's in this fic.]
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2022
  3. Necrovore

    Necrovore Not too sore, are you?

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    Ah, the infamous dusty antique shop of cursed and magical items. The number of horror stories and adventures that get their start buying something from a shop like this... Nice to see this staple of storytelling still in use so many decades later. :p
     
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  4. Nicohals J Westerberg

    Nicohals J Westerberg (Local Lurker)

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    just read advent of a hero, nice story, also i feel like curios is familier but i cant remember where ive heard of it.
     
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  5. anwan7

    anwan7 Know what you're doing yet?

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    Curio's
     
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  6. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    Ah, the redemption of Sophia story!

    And Curio's. I haven't seen that one in.... A long time.


    Used to be big in Ranma fanfic. A bit silly, but Worm could use it, I guess.

    Not their usual feel, but within the range of possiblity.
     
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