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 was stuck for a few days on what to write for "Injuries". I considered detailing the circumstances under which Apocalypse Drow lost his arm and eye in the Rikti War, or going back to write the story of Ani's March '09 cave-in entrapment, but I haven't got much grasp yet on the former and the latter is something I want to save for another older Perspective topic or for a longer thread of its own. I commented to Bolty about my writer's block and she unhelpfully suggested, "Ani stubs eir toe." A couple hours later, this was posted.
High Park, Kings Row. 2010.
"Ready or not, here I come!" yelled the Androgyne as e dove off the side
of the Paladin e'd been clinging to the shoulder of in a graceful swan
dive, then tucked into a ball as e neared the ground. Sean Casus was
ready and caught em with his energy manipulations, reducing Ani's
inertia so e touched down without injury, and e quickly sprang back to
eir feet and looked up to reassess the situation from the ground. E
heard the ominous grinding of gears from somewhere within the giant
Clockwork construct's shoulder casing, and a second later its massive
metal spiked mace appendage began to climb skyward. No doubt the
monstrosity intended to smash him flat, but its tremendous size made
predicting its movements very easy. E started to reach for a thread to
pull emself a few yards away to safety, but a shout from behind em
caused it to sink in an instant too late that that Paladin's mace
was the least of eir worries.
"Ani, geddown!" yelled Sean, manipulating kinetic energy into his shout
to actually shove at Ani with the force of his voice. Ani let the
shockwave carry em and threw emself flat, and as e fell felt a terrible
sensation when one of the jagged spikes extending from the second
Paladin's mace tore through eir flesh from the lower back up to eir
shoulder as it swept overhead. Sean moved towards him, intending to
transfer some energy from the first construct into Ani to heal em, but
he was forced to leap into the air before he could as it finally brought
its own mace down towards him.
Ani shoved up to all fours and threw emself head over heels closer to
the first, rolling eir weight over the side of eir back that wasn't
hurt, and lashed eir hands out for the prominent threads of the two
creaking monsters, easy to find with their closeness and how involved
they were with Ani. E wasn't sure how it was they could have threads
given their simplicity, but e figured it was related to the fact that
the conscious mind of the Clockwork King guided their actions. Grasping
the threads e pulled with one hand while loosening eir grasp on the
other, sliding between them only a step, and instantaneously reversed
the damage done to em with the realignment.
Sean descended from his bound on the other side of the first Paladin,
having sprung impossibly high over it with his inertia reduced, and as
he came down focused energy into his fists to smash through a rusty
panel loosened earlier in the fight on the creation's back. Ani's hands
raked through the air and more sparkling black interdimensional
detritus, strangely iridescent as it seethed in swirls through the air
before dissipating, flowed out of the tattered threads to mire the
monsters. A generator somewhere inside the second Paladin whirred
angrily to life, and a burst of electricity blasted out of the murk and
lanced from Ani to Sean, but the painful shock left them relatively
unscathed, depleted of energy as Sean had left it and the blast further
dispersed by the strange particles Ani had released.
Ani snapped one of the threads e held like a whip and shot up through
space in a blink to land on the first Paladin's shoulder. Its head
turned in surprise and the visor of the helm that constituted its head
creaked down as if it was furrowing its brow in anger. Ani simply
smirked, eir own eyes brightening in intensity, then began to unload
powerful bursts of radiation into its face as Sean continued to focus
fire on the shattered panel, scream after scream shuddering through the
monster as he focused on destroying its inner workings.
Down below, around Sean, Ani could see smaller Clockwork busily
gathering and reassembling the broken parts their dedicated assault was
shaking loose into new soldiers. Sean was getting distracted as he took
a moment here and there to blast apart one of the improvised
reinforcements whenever they got close enough to him to prove a
nuisance. Ani pulled eir own attention away from assaulting the Paladin
e was riding and held eir hands together, generating a churning ball of
sickly green radiance that e then hurled down to the assemblers'
staging ground, annihilating the constructors.
The second Paladin however took advantage of that moment's distraction,
and swung its mace in a wide arc onto Ani, one of its long spikes
driving through eir midsection and into the first Paladin's shoulder as
the weight of the appendage crushed Ani against the other robot. Ani
gasped for breath with which to scream and blood poured out of eir
mouth, and e felt horrible wrenching shudders quake through eir body as
the Paladins tromped about in circles trying to disengage. Sean, unable
to see from his vantage point what had become of Ani and busy evading
the frustrated stomps of the machines, called up to ask if Ani was
okay. Eir hands clawed frantically for the threads of fate, and as e
shifted emself temporally to undo the carnage wrought on eir body, e
also pulled emself elsewhere spatially to drop down whole onto the arm
of the second Paladin's mace.
"Dandy!" e shouted down as e ran along the length of the arm to the
other Paladin's shoulder, putting the memory of being punctured and
crushed out of eir mind and twisting at the waist to hurl bolts of
radiation again at the first. Together they focused their fire on it,
throwing wave after wave now into the front of its torso while Sean
moved back into position and resumed his assault on its cracked back.
The combined assault worked perfectly, Ani's cascades of radiation
embrittling the metal as Sean's screams battered and shook it apart from
the other side. The Paladin was losing its structural integrity, its
stomps turning into staggers as it tried to maintain balance on a
midsection that was crumbling on both sides.
Realizing an advantage they could capitalize on to make the entire task
easier, Ani snapped a thread and dove through space-time back onto the
shoulders of the more battered Paladin. E braced emself against its
helm and began to pour out radiation where the other Paladin's mace was
still embedded, intensifying and focusing it until the metal began to
glow, sweat breaking out across eir brow as e welded the two constructs
together. E wrinkled eir nose at the scent of eir own blood boiling
between the mace and shoulder.
The second Paladin lunged for Ani, its great metal gauntlet snapping
around em in an attempt to make em stop, but the task was already
complete. It discharged electricity through its fist and Ani cried out
as it coursed through em directly, too close to be dispersed by the
threadmire. The second Paladin tried to pull its mace free but was only
frustrated by the attempt, a terrible grinding in its shoulder casing
suggesting it nearly pulled the appendage out of use in the attempt.
Ani tried to wriggle eir arms free to get enough of a grasp on the
threads to pull emself out of its grasp, but the effort was useless
until in anger the Paladin that held em threw em on the ground, refusing
to be a part of their systemic assault; it tried again to free its mace
but only did more damage to the other Paladin and its own arm.
Ani cried out as e slammed into the ground on eir side, and rolled away
as the staggering machines stomped erratically around em. Ani reached
for the threads to mend emself as e crawled weakly to eir feet, but a
sudden surge of renewal flowed through em as Sean transferred some
energy from the first Paladin into Ani. Instead, Ani immediately joined
him again in blasting into the rattling body above them. Finally, with
an ear-raping shriek of twisting metal, its interior structure gave
out, the body of the Paladin crumbling in on itself and collapsing to
the ground as Ani ducked between its legs to run over to Sean.
The second Paladin's feet skidded into the ground, tearing up chunks of
dirt and grass as it tried to keep its balance, but the weight of the
other as it collapsed was too much for it. As the upper body of the
first Paladin slammed into the ground, the other was levered by its
welded mace into a complete, impossible flip, and came crashing down in a
colossal heap head-first among the remains of the other.
Ani slowly grinned as the threads of fate that had connected em to the
two monstrosities snapped free of the central mass around em and
dissipated into nothingness. The King was giving up on his destroyed
toys and had withdrawn his consciousness, they were nothing but a
massive pile of scrap now. The two High-Park-born Reciprocators whooped
and shared an intense high-five over another successful defense of
their old stomping grounds from the Clockwork's ravaging.
After they caught their breath, Ani turned to walk back to where e'd
left eir overcoat and beret; Ani'd just been wandering through the Row
when Sean had broadcast that two of the constructs were tearing through
High Park. E didn't notice the rock jutting up from the ground behind
em when e'd turned, and after eir first step the following foot smashed
toe-first into it, a long one wedged deeply into the dirt of the park
that did not budge in the slightest. A shrill yelp of pain escaped eir
lips and e sprang back, hopping around on one foot as e felt eir big toe
begin to swell inside eir boot. "Oh God, OW!"
Sean, about to take off to continue his patrol, paused and looked back
at Ani. "What'd you do?"
Ani crumpled down to sit on the ground and pulled eir boot off to poke
at the swollen toe through the foot of eir Reciprocators unitard,
letting out a hiss and a whimper at the pain that shot through it. E
sat there and sulked, rubbing at the base of the toe. With their
enemies defeated, there was nothing near enough to heal emself with a
thread adjustment other than Sean, and Ani hadn't been able to see the
threads of eir friends for months. "Stubbed it on a rock -- Jesus, that
really hurts!" E leaned over eir leg and blew on the toe,
wincing. Worriedly, e worked off the other boot and compared the sizes
of the toes, then gave another whimper and went back to massaging it.
Sean stared at Ani for a second. He looked over to the wreckage of the
Paladins, at the shoulderplate with the mace stuck to it jutting up out
of the wreckage, still coated with baked-on blood, then back to Ani. He
shook his head and leapt away.