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[personal profile] lb_lee
The Mother of All Plagues
Series: Reverend Alpert
Word Count: 2000
Summary: Perfection and Reverend Alpert encounter something they can't fight.
Notes: This story was sponsored by the Patreon crew, and is the only Alpert story not to be in chronological order; it comes after The Deity of Forever Road and before The Librarian. With this story, the first arc of the Reverend Alpert stories is concluded; the next arc will focus on Most Revered Dorothy Ives.


By now, Perfection had long since learned the rules and rhythms of the road. The days fell into a pattern: she and Alpert would wake, have breakfast (a mix of provisions, supplemented by Perfection’s hunting and Alpert’s gathering), and clean up. Then, while Perfection took down their tent and started packing up, Alpert would cast a direction work.

There were two forms of direction works. The small ones could be drawn on the back of Alpert’s gloves like anything else, and gave a simple directional reading, or simply ‘here.’ They took virtually no time, but gave very little sense of distance.

The large ones were more precise, and easier to plan around, but took more time and effort. Depending on their surroundings, Alpert would need to clear a circle around him, lay down material to draw on, and then go about making a geometric divided work large enough for him to sit in. Then he had to consult his maps and notebooks and go, “hmm” a lot before asking her which route she liked best.

When she asked him once, he’d explained it to her as, “Even my most complex work doesn’t always take environmental hazards into account, or human unfriendliness. That can only be predicted by me.”

Generally, Perfection found the whole thing dull and was glad to have something to physical to do until he was done. But she did like his maps. She enjoyed tracing her claws down the routes, learning the land. One day, she hoped to know it as well as Alpert.

Even he still made mistakes, though.

Weather, of course, answered to no Gestaltist. Rain and cold didn’t bother Perfection much, but crushing heat and insects did—even demonically tough skin did nothing to ameliorate the aggravation of gnats and flies hurling themselves into her eyes and ears.

“Why couldn’t your dried-up old ass have a deep subconscious need for demon babe insect repellent?” she whined during one particularly nasty swarm.

“My mistake,” came the dry response. “Next time, I’ll be sure to remember.”

There was also the local wildlife: wolves, deer, and one very lost (and irritable) moose. Perfection did manage to handle the moose, though at the cost of a few broken claws and a chipped horn. They were able to trade it for a fortune at the next township, and Perfection got to keep it all, since she was the one who’d lugged the carcass on her back. That part she didn’t mind at all. At least it was interesting, and it felt good to have her own money.

One day, they took a detour. For the past month, she and Alpert had been following the Forever Road under the auspices of the local god’s protection, but their supplies were running low, and so Alpert led them off the road to a place of seemingly endless golden fields up to their waists.

“Before the Plagues, these were enormous farms,” Alpert said as they waded through. “Wheat, barley, corn. All long since gone to seed, but there’s still enough here for us. Feel free to snatch anything you want.”

Perfection instead focused on snatching birds to eat. There were plenty around, and she found hunting more interesting than gathering.

While pouncing and sneaking, she found some old artifacts of the historical farms: rusted out old equipment, human bones, even the ruins of an old barn. She searched through, but it had long since been picked clean by scavengers, so returned to Alpert with a brace of rats and pigeons.

He had gathered a fair amount of corn. “Just as well you came back,” he said. “I don’t like the look of those clouds up ahead. Storms here can be very nasty.”

When he pointed, Perfection could see the thunderheads. Huge and roiling, with lightning snaking out, they looked interesting but smelled… odd. Perfection had been through enough storms to recognize the smell of impending rain and lightning by now; usually it was her who noticed them first, not Alpert. But with the wind in the face, it became clear to her that the smell she’d interpreted to be coming from the fields was coming from the storm.

“Reverend,” she said, “I don’t think that’s natural weather. Moving pretty fast, isn’t it?”

Alpert froze, with fear in his face. “Oh no.”

“What? What’s ‘oh no’ supposed to mean?” Perfection had never seen him visibly afraid before.

But he was already rushing off. “We need to get to cover right now.”

“There’s an old barn over that way--”

“No. She’ll see us.”

“She?”

“Did you see anything else? Anything closer?”

The first fat drops were starting to come down in the sky, but these weren’t the clear rain Perfection had so enjoyed in the past. They smelled awful and rotten, and burned on contact. The wind was starting to howl, and a funnel cloud seemed to be taking form.

For once, Perfection didn’t want to argue, even though Alpert had interrupted her and wasn’t answering her questions. This seemed serious.

“Uh, a trough. A big old rusty--”

“Good. Take me there.”

They rushed through the field, rain now hammering down. Thankfully, the trough wasn’t far; it was a rusted hulk, tipped on its side, and Perfection was able to up-end it with a good heave, hiding her and Alpert underneath.

Rain sluiced through the holes, but Alpert didn’t complain, only scrawled hasty cleansing circles on the underside of the trough. No wards—that was strange.

“Don’t move,” he whispered, “Don’t make a sound.”

She could barely hear him over the storm, and then the ground started to shake and roar and pulse. However, Alpert had said nothing about looking, so she peeked through one of the rusty holes.

The cloud was almost on them. Wait, no… it wasn’t a cloud at all…

It was locusts.

They descended on the fields around them like a devouring pestilence, but avoided Alpert’s cleansing circles. Their chittering rivaled the howling storm and the pounding earth. The stench of supernatural decay reminded Perfection of the hive child, only much worse. For a while, she could see nothing but seething insects.

Then, the locusts were past, and she saw the center of the storm, the source of the shaking ground in the funnel cloud.

It was a woman. The shaking was her footsteps.

She was enormous, taller even than the ruins of the Scattered Cities, broader than the biggest barn. The rain was her sweat and spittle; the locusts poured from her skin, which was riddled with holes with that of a lotus pod. Her gargantuan breasts and belly shook and rattled like hollow gourds, and her eyes were shriveled white boulders in her face. Sludge poured down her legs. The reek was overpowering.

Perfection had known fear and smallness, with the terror-eater. But this woman was incomparable. She was a force of nature, bigger than human civilization and far older. She was a goddess, an eldritch force of destruction and pestilence. Looking at her, Perfection felt tiny, as insignificant as a fly—but not in a bad way. For the first time in her short life, she felt awe.

And she gasped.

The goddess was miles away—she had to be, for Perfection to see all of her. But still, her head jerked, and for a moment, Perfection was positive she was staring right at her with those white eyes.

Like prey, Perfection froze. She held her breath, but her heart seemed deafening in her chest. She sweated and tried not to shake. She couldn’t move to touch Alpert, nor her to touch her, but their eyes met. His lips moved: wait.

The goddess looked away, and Perfection could breathe again.

Perfection lost sight of her then, not because she was too far, but because she was too close. Her body was too huge to be seen up close—she became mere flashes of flesh. Her footsteps pounded closer and closer—and then passed over them, fading into the distance.

Finally, the air around them was clear and silent again. At Alpert’s nod, Perfection heaved the trough off of them, and found herself in an alien landscape. Around them, the landscape had changed. The golden brown fields were gone, mowed off a bare inch or two from the ground. The ruins of the barn were pulverized. The twitching corpses of locusts were everywhere, as though they had no life force without their creatrix.

Alpert looked as shaken as she felt. “I’m sorry,” he told her as he dusted himself off. “I never thought I’d see one twice.”

“Alpert,” Perfection was trying not to let her voice shake. “What was that?”

“They have a lot of names. I was taught to call them the Mothers of All Plagues.”

“You can’t fight them, can you?”

“No.” He sat down on the trough for a moment, and went into what Perfection had learned was his calming breathing exercises. For once, she even tried to imitate them. They even seemed to help a little.

When they’d both calmed down some, he turned to her. “What did you see, if you don’t mind my asking?”

She told him.

He rubbed his chin. “Interesting.”

“Why?” Perfection remembered the children from the Scattered City, the ones who had given completely different reports as to what she looked like. “What did you see?”

“The first time I saw one, it was a rain of blood, fire, and teeth. This one more resembled a hurricane. No humanoid figure.” He got up and offered her his hand. “Shall we return to the Forever Road? Suddenly, I’m not interesting in straying. Let me find the safest route...”

Taking his hand even though she didn’t need it, Perfection nodded vigorously, but she didn’t get up. She wasn’t ready for that yet. He gave her a squeeze, and then let go to scrawl a new compass work on his gloves-- quickly. He wanted to get out of here as much as she did, she realized.

Perfection sat on the trough, surrounded by destruction, and she realized three things.

First: the Mother of All Plagues was nothing like the Terror-Eater. The fear that the Terror-Eater instilled was an artificial product of its own supernatural influence. The Mother of All Plagues, however, inspired dread because of her own majesty. She didn’t need to work to make Perfection afraid; that was just a side effect of her own power.

Second: entities like the Mother of All Plagues were not to be fought or outwitted. A Terror-Eater could be defeated with planning and forethought, but some things, all that could be done about them was to hide and pray. That was why Alpert hadn’t bothered laying down wards—it only would’ve drawn her attention.

The third realization was a question: what if she and Alpert needed to take shelter from an entity that did require wards? Something stronger than Perfection, but not at the level of the Mother of All Plagues. Perfection couldn’t stand to be near anything but Alpert’s quietest wards; they made her skin burn, split, and bleed. It was one of the reasons she’d pulled away from him, the knowledge that he could bind and banish her whenever he wanted. At the time, she’d only thought about that, but what if she needed the protection of his wards, only to be harmed by them?

This wouldn’t do. Something needed to change. And while she wasn’t knowledgeable enough to know how to do it, she suspected she knew someone who wasn’t Alpert that did.

She turned to Alpert. “Hey, Reverend, any chance we could go to one of the Scattered Cities next? I have something I want.”

He raised an eyebrow, but when she didn’t volunteer any more information, he accepted it. “Certainly. Let’s take out the map and see...”

As they pondered over the map and busied themselves with the mundane task of their route, Perfection felt a new sense of pride. As frightening as the experience had been, it felt good to see an entity so mighty and dreadful as the Mother of All Plagues. She gave something for Perfection to live up to, even if she could only dream of being so huge herself.

And she had the money from the moose. Plenty enough for ink, paper, and the cost of sending a letter to Most Revered Dorothy Ives.

Date: 2017-05-24 01:22 pm (UTC)
we_are_spc: (Default)
From: [personal profile] we_are_spc
Yaaaayyy I like this!

Thank you for posting it. :d

-Fallon~
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