For the second consecutive year, the Perspectives writing series presented a "Marathon" challenge in May. Instead of the usual single writing prompt for the month, Yuki Frost's player put up a new topic every 5 days, along with a bonus topic for a grand total of seven. I missed out on all of the previous year's, but this time managed to bang out a story for each before the following topic went up. After realizing I'd done it unconsciously for the first two, I tacked on a personal challenge that surprisingly made it easier to get the ball rolling when I sat down to write: starting each story with the same sentence.
I really enjoyed writing this one, "Training", for a few reasons. First, I don't get enough opportunities to write for the Androgyne when e was still a villain, since I didn't really start RPing em until e came blueside. Second, I really wanted Ani to come across as a bad, scary person, and highlight eir utter indifference to the lives of Rikti, which continues to be a defining trait of the character even after e's embraced the desire to do right in the human world. Third, by the end of the story I actually liked Bur'Roz. Writing the Rikti from a sympathetic point of view was an interesting exercise.
Sunken Road, White Plains. August, 2008.
Irrelevant. Pursuit: Initiated," taunted Bur'Roz, the armor-clad
leader who had dispatched his platoon throughout what was left of this
collapsed mine beneath the War Zone. The saboteur that had been chased
out of the mothership was hiding here somewhere, and moments ago when he
activated the thermal scanner in his helmet to inspect the ground,
Bur'Roz saw the faint patches of warmth where their feet had touched the
ground. Judging from how the footsteps disappeared into a pile of
rocks that ended the natural corridor, the fractured support beam lying
across his path had only recently been knocked loose to shield the
Bur'Roz unslung his massive weapon from his back and slammed the
prongs of the sword into the rocks, then pulled the trigger to unleash a
blast of plasma from the cannon grafted to the blades. For a moment he
was showered in stone shrapnel, but his armor protected him from any
injury the flying shards could have caused. The last reports from his
squadron had informed him of another path around the blockage, but after
confirming that their prey had created the obstruction he was not about
to let them shape his path of pursuit.
Kicking aside rubble and rocks with his foot, Bur'Roz lowered to
peer through the sizable opening he had created, gunsword held at the
ready as he scanned ahead for any sign of the saboteur. Content that
they had put more distance between them rather than lie in wait, Bur'Roz
climbed through and sent a signal to the rest of his team to report in
and give him a rendezvous point deeper in the mine.
No reports came.
Keeping his sword at the ready and his thermal imaging active, he stalked down the old mine car tracks at a
brisk pace, slowing only when he could not see around bends to approach
them carefully. Switching on other sensors in his armor, he received
grim confirmation that there was in fact nothing jamming his and his
team's transmission frequencies. Their broadcasts were not being
blocked, they were either prevented from or unable to respond at all.
Still, he would not send for reinforcements. The breach of the ship had
been under his watch, and he would not draw more troops away from it in
case the saboteur was no more than a distraction to let the humans
strike in earnest with less resistance.
Bur'Roz released a growl of dissatisfaction as he moved into the
central chamber the miners had excavated many years before his people
came to this world to avenge the strike made against them by its
champions. He hated fighting in deceptively open spaces such as this,
where each level of stone around the cavern only provided more hiding
spots and choke points that were used against his people as often as for
A pained gurgling reached his ears and set his heart beating in
anger -- the voice was most definitely Rikti, one of his troops. A weak
psionic tingling trickled down from his parietal lobe, the awareness of
danger washed over him and he felt a distinct urge to direct his sight
upward. It was a warning from Mentalist C'Kar, and like the initial
whimpering it came from above. Weapon at the ready, Bur'Roz moved with
caution up the stone ramp at the side of the chamber towards the upper
Reaching the first of the two levels above, Bur'Roz clenched the
grip of his weapon tighter, the knuckles of his great gauntlet creaking
under the strain. The team he'd sent through the eastern shaft when
they had reached the mine were all here. All six were accounted for and
three more conscripts besides; all lay dead. They had died fighting,
judging by the plasma burns dotting the walls and smell of seared human
flesh that still lingered here. Lowering his sword and staring down at
the recently disfigured communications officer who must have teleported
in the reinforcements, Bur'Roz felt another pang of anger rush through
Now, closer to its origin, C'Kar's psionic transmission began to
take better shape, every word crystallizing in Bur'Roz's mind in the
midst of a cloud of the mentalist's own agony and regret. Saboteur:
deranged. Intrusion: a lure. Pursuit: Abort! The message began
again, each time an unverbalized plea that rescuers abandon him to his
fate for their own safety growing in urgency. Bur'Roz erected his own
limited mental screens to shunt the warning from overwhelming his mind,
stepped over the dead officer at his feet and began to make his way to
the next and final level above. C'Kar's willingness to be sacrificed
was noble, but he was sure it was founded on the thought that the half
of the squadron C'Kar had not been assigned to still lived. He would
not surrender one of his most loyal men to whatever human monstrosity
had turned Communications Officer Rukkel's face into a complete mockery
of his true Rikti self, not if he had unwittingly ordered the rest of
these soldiers to their death.
He heard whispering as he neared the upper level, and increased the
sensitivity of his armor's microphone to try and make out the words.
The voice was human, that much was certain. "Tell me how it feels.
...do you think you're dying?"
Bur'Roz stepped carefully up the ramp until he could see across the
floor of the uppermost level of the chamber. The rest of his squad was
here, but these ones still lived for the most part. Not for long, he
suspected, judging by the wracking shudders that rolled through many of
them as they writhed on the ground. Near the middle of the chamber,
facing him, was C'Kar, enveloped in a shroud of shimmering iridescent
shadows that seethed and swirled in response to the human's slow,
plucking gestures in the air. Like Rukkel, half of C'Kar's face was no
longer C'Kar's, but a warped mimicry of a human's. His captor, a
pitifully small and slender thing, was clad in a lightweight variant of
their Vanguard operative battle armor.
C'Kar's terrified eyes found Bur'Roz, he was sure because of the
psionic sensation of alarm that surged against the barrier he had
erected in his mind to maintain his concentration. Bur'Roz focused his
thoughts to give C'Kar a clear order to read outside the barrier with
his outstretched consciousness. Despite his fear for his commander,
C'Kar obeyed and turned his psionics as subtly as he could through his
own pain towards his captor, not seeking to intrude but carefully
masking their senses with false input. C'Kar was visibly strained by
the effort needed for such a discreet telepathic attack in his current
straits, but the human regarded it only as more evidence of the pain he
was subjecting the mentalist to, "Is it getting worse or are you just
scared? Tell me and I might end this fast for you."
Bur'Roz crept onto the upper level, trusting C'Kar to conceal his
approach. One of his Headmen, who had been alive when he first caught
sight of the situation here, gave a final shudder and death rattle
beside him. Again the rage welled up, but his commitment to his mission
and those who might survive this forced him to suppress it. He strode
with surprising grace for his towering height towards the Vanguard agent
and drew back his sword, intending to end this as quickly as possible,
and as he approached performed a biometric scan of its dimensions in the
hopes it was an operative the Rikti had faced before and their databanks could recommend a course of attack.
It returned quickly on his screen: The Androgyne. A Sword operative
usually encountered in the process of assassinating mid-to-high-ranking
members of the Lineage of War. Instantaneously fatal transgenic
radiation: it imprinted its own likeness on even Rikti flesh, and the
process when the radiation penetrated to vital organs had universally
extinguished the affected Rikti in an instant. Bur'Roz paused, a step
away from coming into range to strike this monster down.
Universally, instantaneously fatal. Yet a few of his men still
lived. C'Kar's face had been irradiated to such extent that the rays
should have penetrated to his brain tissue yet he lived, albeit in
agony. Why? Why would the Androgyne choose his men to toy with in this
way when any others it had bested had been granted a mercifully swift,
if still grotesque, death?
If they lived, there could be hope for the damage the Androgyne had
wrought to be repaired: Rikti lives could be saved, and they could
report back about the changing nature of the threat this human posed.
Their scientists would have an opportunity to study the processes by
which it corrupted in a surviving victim. Bur'Roz had hoped to free
C'Kar and capitalize on whatever further aid the psychic could lend,
that if he struck, the few who still lived might find the strength to at
least lift their rifles and offer covering fire. Now, with
reluctance but grim determination, he decided he would have to try to
end this alone.
Bur'Roz issued the command that triggered all all the emergency teleport
beacons assigned to his squadron and, as was tradition when a leader
brought a mission to such a point of staggering failure as to
necessitate such an evacuation, disabled his own. Shimmering green
portals swirled open around C'Kar, the survivors, the dead, and
transported them all to the mother ship's medical ward. The Androgyne
yelled out in protest and thrust a hand towards C'Kar's face, but was
too late and their radiation burned harmlessly through the space where
his head had been and into the cavern wall beyond.
Bur'Roz surged forward before the Androgyne could detect his
breathing, now that their senses were no longer masked by the mentalist,
stabbed the prongs of his sword into their midsection and, as with the pile of rocks earlier, pulled the
trigger of his plasma cannon. The force of the blast knocked the stunned Androgyne off the end of the sword and threw him across the cavern with a
startled scream, the back of his armor torn open, burnt flesh still
bubbling and blistering around the gaping wounds left by the sword.
Bur'Roz fired a second blast as the human bounced and rolled across the
rocky ground, then ran after them, raising his sword to obliterate them
with a single--
Bur'Roz was surrounded in a miring cloud of shimmering darkness, much
like that which had held C'Kar captive for the Androgyne. At once he
understood the terror that C'Kar had felt, as his senses flooded with
the awareness of what the Androgyne could do to him and bizarre glimpses
of this moment, only different, flashed through his vision at all
angles. He saw himself corrupted, his face replaced by a warped and
rotten mimicry of the Androgyne's stretched horribly over the noble
angles of his own skull, corrupted and dead. Vaguely, he could make out
the Androgyne through the murk, staggering to their feet and clawing at
the air, pulling at something unseen one moment and in the next
standing tall and steady, unhurt.
The Androgyne's hand lashed forward and a bolt of vile green radiance
flowed down their arm, seared through the murk and into and past
Bur'Roz's chestplate, and he cried out in shock and agony. This was not
one of the phantom strikes he saw unfolding in a thousand different
ways in the glimpses of other possibilities that danced through the
shadows enveloping him, but instead a real and actual attack here and
now. According to the brief Bur'Roz had downloaded moments before, he
should be on the verge of death already as his heart was rewritten with
the genetic structure of a human's, unable to replicate some strange
portion of the Androgyne's genetic code. Instead, he felt a searing pain as the skin reshaped, but nothing deeper.
The Androgyne stalked forward, eyes and hands shining with green
light. Bur'Roz struggled to ready his weapon and move, but the
slightest movement in this seething mire assaulted his senses with a new
slew of horrible possibilities for his ultimate fate at the Androgyne's
hands. "Why are you still here? Why not escape with the rest of
them?" They threw another angry bolt, eliciting a pained cry from
Bur'Roz, and he fired a barrage from his rifle that came nowhere near
the Androgyne. They let out a thin laugh, almost a giggle.
Bur'Roz pressed his eyes closed and tried to push the barrage of images
of his own death away and focus on what was real. It was one thing to
shield his mind from a psionicist's communication, but quite another to
try to block his own assaulted senses. He strained to growl at the
Androgyne, his confusion and anger not helping his use of human
language. "Our pursuit: Tempted...My men: Playthings? Not War:
Murder. You: ...Monster."
The Androgyne's lips pursed as they stalked closer to Bur'Roz, fingers
dancing and slashing through the air as it kept the shining murk
whirling around him, preventing him from striking out as he quaked in
rage and barely contained terror. The Androgyne reached up and touched
the seams of Bur'Roz's helmet, and he realized they knew exactly where
it disengaged from the rest of the armor with a terrible familiarity. A
flash of radiation came at the edges of Bur'Roz's vision, but he felt
no pain -- they were simply weakening the latches, and then his
faceplate was pulled away and thrown aside. As he beheld the Androgyne
with his own eyes, Bur'Roz refused to blink.
The Androgyne shook their head, and gave Bur'Roz a serene, hating smile. "No,
not murder. Just...practice."
They reached for his face.