I was still annoyed over those last two stories, so I decided to write something dumb. Really dumb. Really, really, really dumb. Crackfic! I started a crossover, and then I realized that to rationalize it I needed to drag a third universe into the crossover. Also when I got stuck, I made myself insert pop culture references. So yeah - about as dumb a thing as I could come up with.
To the three or four people who actually care about all of the universes in question, this will probably be really hilarious or really horrifying. I'm okay with that.
When the rifts came, they tore the connections between one moment and the next: the arrangement of incidents was lost. Events that ought to have followed one another closely wandered down dark and lonely paths without causality. The rifts jerked fitfully across Dominaria, and grew as confusion increased. As the rifts gnawed at the connections between the might-have-been, the always-was, and the could-still-be, possibilities from far-distant paths found themselves together, and the dependent sometimes became the mutually exclusive.
Above the veldt on a flat-topped hill, Teferi stood, surveying the brown, stubbly plains all around him and the sliding of clouds above. Jamuraa's rains had not come at their appointed time, and the rifts he could see in the distance did not promise a healthy change of weather. His cloak refused to hide the shape of his lean, tall body as the winds pulled on it. Beside him stood a red-haired woman in black armor, extravagantly decorated in purple and green, with black paint on her pale face: the wind did not move her. Teferi rubbed his head, brown, worn fingers sliding over his hairless scalp.
"I'm tired," he said quietly, "and there is very much more to do." He turned to his companion. "All of the rifts we've closed so far, have required extravagant sacrifice. I suspect that the one I opened all those years ago will, particularly, require extravagant sacrifice from me, and that we may not be able to get away with closing that rift last. I want to ask you, particularly, to continue the task if I should die before it's finished."
Phage stared back at him, the pattern of black lines on her face shifting as she made a wry smile.
"I think that if I'm going to die again, it should be for a good reason, and saving the universe is a good reason. I had enough of nihilists the first time around."
Teferi's lips pulled back as he grinned, tufty eyebrows rising.
"Good. It's all worth saving, really."
"I don't think so - but I'll never know what is worth saving if it's all gone."
The wind hissed around them, intensifying, clutching at their clothes as it roared past. The clouds stirred, rumbled, thickened. As they walked to the edge of the plateau, there were flashes of soundless light, and the expanse of the veldt warped, as though looking at it though a handful of broken glass. Teferi raised two thick, stout staves towards the rifts as they approached, reaching from sky to grass, causing the wind where they passed, but at the same time pushed by the wind. There was a crackling red aura around Phage's hands as she readied herself.
Looking into the rift, as it closed in on them, showed a broken universe - a universe without the property of time that keeps all events from happening at once, a universe incoherent, a universe devouring the time-ness of their own. Sweat appeared on Teferi's forehead as he waved carefully, Phage's red glow outlining him and amplifying his efforts as he set his trap for the rift.
"Too big," he said, panting already. "Not like the others. This one has a mind - why does it have a mind? None of the others had minds."
The rift was all around them now: their plateau was a lone mesa over an endless desert, then sandbar in ankle-deep water, then a treetop in a forest that reached beyond the horizons and into the sky. Wind continued to whirl, grabbing at them, and Phage's armor pinged and sang as the wind attacked it. She carefully shaped energy as her hair whipped about: too much chaos, and coherent action would be impossible, too much rationality would leave her unable to siphon power from the rift.
As the rift's wind screamed around them, a face formed in the chaos, hanging in the air: a woman's face, grimacing in pain, with long, thick hair over her eyes. Teferi brandished his staves, then made a pulling motion. The face in the rift lifted, and the hair, resolving into thin dreadlocks, was swept back away from fiercely glaring eyes under thin brows, high cheekbones framing a judgmental frown.
With another pulling motion from Teferi, the face began to shrink, and a body became apparent beneath it, walking towards them purposefully, leaning forward as though walking into a high wind. She was tall and angular, and seemed to wear ornate armor, something like featherless, skeletal wings protruding from it shoulders, green and purple and the yellow of old bone sharpening the contrast between her and the rift. Phage and Teferi watched warily, stepping back as she approached. When her feet touched the gritty, windswept dirt of the plateau, the rift quickly began to recede, its furious gale turning to ineffective gusts and puffs.
"You two look like fighters," said the strange woman, voice resonating. Her voice was not unfriendly, but was like many voices tied together and made to speak all at the same time. "But you also look alive - so that means I'm not here to fight you. Nice to meet you."
Teferi and Phage glanced at one another, and Phage stepped forward, removing her plate gauntlets.
"Who are you here to fight, then - and who are you?"
The woman peered at Phage, yellow eyes focusing. With the rift gone, her appearance had become clearer: her hair was brown and in thick dreadlocks that rose and moved on their own, slowly waving in the air. Her armor was still purple and bone-yellow, but it was her skin that was a swampy green, and the armor's bony ridges and protrusions simply grew directly from her body. Behind her were two bony limbs that became spikes at their ends, rising high above her shoulders, then turning downwards at joints, flexing back and forth as though eager to lunge out, to cut, to stab.
"I think you know them." Phage shuddered as she felt something enormous pass near her mind, the change in energy warning her, making her bring defensive spells to mind. "All made of metal or fake bodies, not alive and not dead, they hate life and want to overrun everything, to get rid of even the idea of life? Think clearly about them if you know them."
Teferi's fingers grasped his staves tightly as his nose wrinkled in disgust.
"I know them - they should be gone, but these rifts don't leave the past alone. Are they back?"
"They are back in the same way that I am: back from your future."
The strange woman sighed, her bone spikes drooping, and for a moment looked less arrogant and more frail. She looked at Teferi hungrily.
"You have fought them. You have won? You wouldn't be standing here if you hadn't."
"We won," Phage corrected her. "At great cost."
"That's what it always takes, against them. But - I didn't answer your other question. My name is Sarah Kerrigan. I used to be a spy. Until they burned me and left me to die, and I had to be something else. I was stuck where they dumped me, and only one person would still talk to me: P'tsee the Cerebrate."
"Cerebrate isn't a title I know," Phage said warily. "So how do you know about the Phyrexians?"
"Is that what you call them? Let me get to that part of the story. The Cerebrate took me in and accepted me into the swarm. It took a while for things to settle down - but when things got settled, I was the Queen of the Swarm, it was one huge me-body, all across the star systems, me in a million places, in a million bodies. The Swarm was the first really good thing in my life - the first time that other people hadn't been holding me back, and the first time I could really think, really concentrate on important things. I went from place to place, and I lasted a very long time, finding interesting places and learning interesting things. What got me in trouble, though, was trying to go from one universe to the next. I was hungry - I was very, very hungry, and I ate people I shouldn't have. I got to the new universe, and it was interesting, but it was also grim and dark, nothing but endless war. Not a very imaginative bunch. That's where I met the machines."
"You found Phyrexia?" Teferi interrupted. "It still exists?"
"No - I don't know where they came from, I've just seen worlds they overran, the tomb worlds. I wanted to get out of that universe, and there was an interesting area of it that looked like it'd get me out. Normally the psychic part of the world is just something different - it's in all our minds instead of being a physical place. But there it was different: there was a place where it all tumbled out into the world we can walk on and touch and see, and they were so afraid of it that they called it the Eye of Terror. No one in that universe was worth my time, and they killed a lot of me. I was sad. They killed and killed and killed. And the machines were even worse, because they followed me into the Eye, where I was trying to get somewhere else, and they went back in time. They didn't just want to kill me, they wanted to kill everyone I'd ever been. So I had to follow them back."
Teferi slouched, the tips of his staves pointing at the ground.
"That is grave news: the Phyrexians were, before this, the gravest danger my land ever faced, and those who defeated them, are long gone."
"Well, if the Phyrexians aren't gone, Urza might not be gone either. We have a bit of a causality problem right now," Phage pointed out.
"The machines and I aren't the only visitors from other times?"
"No." Teferi abruptly frowned. "Now I know what your body reminds me of - the slivers. There was a swarm here, something like what you describe, a huge mass of creatures with but one mind. I imagine that they, too, have returned."
Kerrigan's eyes lit up, lonely for a moment, then hungry.
"I need them," she said, and raised her arms.
Her bony wings spread, and she shouted, a single long syllable that stretched into raw sound, scraping against Phage and Teferi's minds as they backed away from her. There was a slow breeze, air moving away from Kerrigan as she turned from side to side, scanning the horizon, rising onto her toes.
"Ah." She rocked back and forth, settling into a more relaxed stance. "There they are." She smiled widely at Phage and Teferi. "Thank you."
Teferi made a sour face, lips shrinking.
"I'm sure they'll be glad to see you, but the rifts are still tearing this world apart. If you can help, seek me out, if you can survive time ceasing to exist, I suppose you can do whatever you like."
He vanished quietly, and Phage smirked.
"You've gotten him cranky." She turned to Kerrigan and smiled. "We do need help, though. Did you have a plan for getting back to where you came from?"
"None whatsoever." Kerrigan smiled back, showing pointed teeth. "I certainly don't want to go back to where the death-machines were, and this place looks interesting. I've been looking for interesting places instead of safe places for long as I can remember, and I don't intend to stop."
"I could use a bit of a safe place myself. I feel out of my league trying to stop all this, trying to stop the whole universe from falling to pieces."
"I doubt very much that you are. You remind me of me."
"Troubled past with one untrustworthy and abusive authority figure after another, a death experience, and an apotheosis, and here you are, still more or less the same person after all of that."
"How can you tell all that?"
Kerrigan tapped her forehead gently.
"I'd just go and re-live it with you if I still had the swarm here. Mindscapes are always interesting."
"I'd appreciate it if you would leave my mind and my body alone."
"I am, as far as I consciously can. I look at minds like you look at faces: I see only what I can't help seeing."
"Well, then don't touch me. It would be bad."
"I'm a little fuzzy on the whole good-bad thing here. What's bad?"
"Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every tiny piece of your body rotting at the speed of thought."
"That's bad? Hmmf. I spent fifteen hundred years experimenting with poisons once."
"Well, it works on the slivers." Phage turned towards the edge of the plateau. "Speaking of them - I hope they think about you the same way you think about them."
Kerrigan followed her, then crooned happily, making a beckoning gesture to the creatures at the bottom of the cliff. The swarm seethed, probing back and forth, then scaling the wind-peeled rock quickly. They had armored, serpentined bodies with whiplike tails, one arm with a single talon for a hand, and a head with an armored crest. As the first reached the top, Kerrigan knelt, caressing the wide, smooth crest of its head. It chittered, then leaned into her, nudging her curiously with its head. Another came over the edge, and a third, forcing her to step back as they crowded around her, curling and hissing, jostling each other and seeking her touch.
Kerrigan smiled widely at them, walking in a slow circle, coaxing up more of the clicking, slithering creatures, noting the variations between them. She spoke to them in similar noises, and then fell silent, simply glancing back and forth, gesturing firmly to them and gathering them around her. They shuddered - then squirmed, all suddenly growing, developing bony ridges and spikes mimicking Kerrigan's.
Kerrigan turned to Phage and smiled.
"I feel much better. I'm lonely with only one body, I need to be the swarm."
Phage laughed bitterly.
"You, lonely? Whiner. I've spent half my life without being able to touch anyone - and you have a million bodies, you're never alone."
A single sliver scuttled forward, its head bobbing from side to side, the curved, faceless dome of its head pointed towards her. It tapped the ground with its claw, then turned back to Kerrigan, watching as she walked forward and dipped her head.
"You're right - and you're wrong. I wasn't away from the swarm very long - but the swarm is me, and it's how I've been for a very long time. How would you feel if you woke up as nothing but eyes and a pair of hands? Being just one body was shocking, it hurt."
Her yellow eyes met Phage's, and she glared, her hair rising and waving, serpentine dreadlocks swaying and radiating from her head.
"I am the swarm. I am nobody else's: I am my own person, I have the kind of self-determination, the ability to keep other people from messing with my life, that you can only really get when you're billions of bodies spread across stars and planets and all the places between them."
Phage pursed her lips, and spoke in a clipped voice.
"Must be nice."
Kerrigan extended her hand.
"You could come with me. You don't like the machines either, do you?"
"I only see a little difference between you and them - if I join either of you, I stop being me. No thanks."
Kerrigan's hand stayed out, and a circle of slivers crowded in around Phage, warily avoiding her armor, hissing softly.
"That might have been true in the past. That isn't true now. You would only stop being you, joining the swarm, if there weren't very much you to begin with. People fear joining me because they fear that their selfhood isn't very much after all - that they just aren't very unique or important or self-willed. Many of them are right - but I very much doubt that someone who's had a life like yours, stops being herself easily. What happened to me was that I slept - and then I woke up, still myself, but at the same time having access to all my other selves, being able to talk to them, think like them, know like them. I personally found it comforting - like the best parts of your friends always in your mind, there for you to consult, take comfort in, give advice to. And now, now that I've been the swarm for so long, I know that when I take in someone like you, I become you as well. Which in your case, I would look forward to. In all the swarm there are very, very few who used to be human, and none of them have experiences like mine. You do. You know what it's like to be someone's weapon, and to want to turn in their hand and strike them, and you know what it's like to be alone in the world, never able to really contact other people because you are the Other, you are something else, and you are dangerous to them."
Her expression softened as she spoke, and she turned her palm up.
"I need someone who knows. I need to become you, too, I don't just want you to become me. I am many, and I am vast, and I know a lot of things, but I have limits. I want you to join me so that I can pass one of those limits."
Phage stepped forward and gingerly reached for her hand.
"I might hurt you."
"You could only hurt me by turning your back on me."
Phage stepped forward and took her hand - and there was a hissing sound. All around her, the slivers shuddered, writhing, their claws raking the air. Kerrigan's face twisted in pain - but she grasped Phage's hand tightly, pulling her forward even as her fingers grew stiff, skin stretching dryly over withered flesh and starkly showing bone. Phage pulled back, mouth open with worry.
"Not a toxin," Kerrigan hissed, her hair wildly lashing, her lips pulled back. "I see. Closer!" she demanded.
Phage stepped closer, other hand raised, wary - but still surprised when Kerrigan's hand darted forward and grabbed her by the wrist. She watched the rot attacking Kerrigan, fingers gone brown-black, forearms showing signs of the death-magic that saturated her body. She shook her head as she remembered being a pit fighter, her bare touch the only weapon she'd ever needed to destroy opponents.
"Aaaaah," Kerrigan gasped, shuddering. "Open up for me! Let me in, let me in, let me be you."
She leaned forward, and Phage's memories twisted, twined suddenly with recollections besides her own. She saw herself in the Ghost Program, she saw the neuro-adjuster torture, she saw the years of working far from other Ghosts. The memories began to blur: she saw Ixidor, half-shadowed, his illusions guiding Arcturus Mengsk to victory and to hatred. She saw the Patriarch of the Cabal as the headmaster of the Ghost Program, bending young psychics to his will and sending them on bloodier and bloodier missions. She saw her brother, sword on his back, marching at the head of a company of Confederate Marines, coming to attack her just as she found the Swarm.
Something hurt her. Her hands burned with pain, and she felt all of her bodies writhing, all sharing the ache of the rot as the death-enchantment inside her reached out to all of them. Maybe she deserved it. She wandered through memory, noting one death after another, moments frozen in time, each killing exquisitely recalled.
"You don't deserve the pain," a voice whispered. "That was what I had to learn, too. I learned to take control of my own life - I learned that I never ever again needed to kill on someone else's orders. No Confederacy. No Cabal. No authorities - no killing."
Was the voice hers?
"Just because I'm powerful, doesn't mean I need to be like them."
She opened her eyes and looked at herself, then pulled herself close. The slivers gathered around her as she kissed herself, the two bodies embracing one another. There was no rot on her hands, and all of her bodies shared her relief as she braided her memories together tightly. Warm, sinuous, serpentine bodies crowded close as the wind picked up, whipping across the plateau again.
"There's another rift coming," she said quietly, only half withdrawn from the kiss, their lips brushing together. "Might be dangerous."
"Only without you."
They kissed again, a long kiss with eyes closed, the swarm all around them, bodies all twined together, mirroring them.
Side by side, the swarm following them, they walked a curving path from the plateau to the plains. There was motion within the swarm: soon, at its head marched two women with serpentine hair and enormous bone-blades protruding from their shoulders, dressed alike in black armor with purple and green decorations, form-fitting over pale skin.
"Close the rifts, smash the machines, save the world. After that? Anything we want."
"No one - I tell you, I mean, no one appreciates it."
Teferi took a swig of wine, then plopped the bottle down in the grass. The veldt stretched away in the distance, dark green and brown and orange as the sunset proceeded, a clear dark sky overhead. The rains had come at their appointed time, and the veldt all around his little hillock was calm and lush, grasses stirred only by the lightest breezes.
"I saved everyone, I saved the world, I saved time itself. That's pretty good, right? And now I think I might as well have not, for all that anyone thanks me or remembers."
He took another angry gulp of wine. Beside him, a young man nodded, patting his shoulder. He wore a blue pinstriped suit, its color quite similar to Teferi's robes, and he gave the mage a sympathetic look over his brown, thick-rimmed spectacles. His hair was brown and bristly in the front, and he was clean-shaven with a strong chin. Teferi fidgeted with his bottle, then spoke bitterly.
"Hmmpf. 'Hey Teferi, good job saving all of existence and the concept of existence itself.' Guess what I never hear?"
"I know exactly how you feel." He looked down at the empty bottle beside him, then over his shoulder at the blue police box sitting on the crest of the little hillock. "I'm going to fetch some more wine."
"I'll come with you," said Teferi, scrambling to his feet, the bitterness gone from his voice.
There were footsteps behind them, and they turned. A stocky, powerfully built man strode towards them, black boots crunching in the grass, dark shades over his eyes, a heavy leather jacket stretched over his wide shoulders. He spoke with a thick accent.
"I'm a friend of Sarah Kerrigan. I was told she was here. Could I see her please?" He paused. "Where is she?"
Total November word count: 19,249