Joined: Aug 1900
Originally posted on MSPA
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw watched the Warden leave with an audible sigh of relief. He had thought that the construct would be able to help him with the problem of the Artiste
. Unfortunately, their brief conversation had proven to be only excruciatingly painful and accomplished neither of his two goals: namely, removing either the Warden or the Artiste
. Instead they seemed to be working together. As if he didn't have enough fucking problems already.
He sighed and pulled himself up off the floor where he had been laying crumpled in a small ball. Despite the terrifying transformations that had wracked his body only minutes earlier, he felt no lingering pain. If anything, he felt refreshed, ready to go, ready kick some ass! Not that any ass really needed to be kicked right this moment. He looked around for a moment wondering where that little human had gone. Frank, or... Fonz or whatever. As he wondered this, the human's head poked over a crate, his eyes wild and startled.[/color]
“Ironjaw!” he shouted. “What the fuck was that!”
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw stood from where he was sitting and dusted himself off, looking around for a moment for the plasma rifle which he had dropped when the ceiling had fallen on him. It was a little banged up but still looked fully functional.
“God damn Artiste
thing. She dropped the ceiling on me.”[/color]
Schuster stepped out from behind the crate and eyed the chunk of fallen concrete. It was extremely large and could clearly have easily crushed even Ironjaw's powerful physique.
“Damn comrade you are tougher than I had thought,” he said, tapping a finger against his chin.
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw just grinned at him, despite how uneasy he felt inside, and shouldered the rifle.
“Look, lets just get the fuck out of here. I don't want to be around this awful place anymore. That damn tree gives me the creeps.” He indicated the huge dripping sculpture with a thumb over his shoulder, unwilling to even look at it. Schuster nodded in fervent agreement and the two turned away to head back the way they had come, into the Coach's warehouse.[/color]
“Looks like your plan did not work, comrade,” Schuster began as they walked.
[color=#P1914]“God damn clocky bastard. So inconsistent. Gets all up my ass about 'sinning' and then lets the biggest fucking sinner there ever was off scot-free. I'll tell you mate, the sooner that spinning lump of shit spins his last the happier I'll be.”[/color]
“Warden gives me the creeps as well,” Schuster replied with a shudder. “Reminds me of many things I saw between dimensions.”
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw looked at the man and raised an eyebrow. “Between dimensions? You're a little more well-traveled than I thought.”[/color]
Schuster shrugged. “It is a long story. Perhaps later I will tell it to you. For now, we have other-”
He stopped and spun. “Comrade, did you hear that?” he asked in a strained whisper. Ironjaw, who had not, in fact, heard that, looked around and saw nothing but stacks of crates.
[color=#P1914]“No,” he replied. He hefted the plasma rifle cautiously in his huge arms. “What did you hear?”[/color]
“Something moving. On top of the stack,” he said, indicating a nearby stack of crates. Ironjaw stared at it but failed to see anything out of the ordinary. Just another pile of moldering crates and boxes. He didn't hear anything, either.
[color=#P1914]“Comrade, have you been drinking?”[/color]
Schuster shot Ironjaw a look of annoyance and cautiously edged around the stack, revolver in hand. He sliced the pie, checking carefully around the side of the pile. There was nothing to be found there but more crates and debris. Sighing and wiping the sweat from his brow, he holstered the pistol and rejoined a rather smug-looking Ironjaw.
[color=#P1914]“I told you, mate. Nobody there.” A big toothy grin covered his face. Schuster just looked pissed off and edgy.[/color]
“I swear I heard something. This place, this place is making me fucking crazy. I am jumping at anything.”
[color=#P1914]“Hey, better cautious than dead, eh?” Ironjaw laughed.[/color] Schuster smiled weakly, his face still pale and sweating.
“True, true. I suppose it is better to think one hears noises and find nothing, than to hear a noise and find its source.”
[color=#P1914]“Right. Now, let's get a move on. We've got to...” his voiced petered out as he realized he actually had no idea what exactly they should be doing right now. “Get to safety,” he finished lamely. “We need a good spot to hole up. Make sure nobody can sneak up on us.”[/color] Schuster nodded in agreement.
As the two walked on, Schuster felt a twinge creeping up his back. Survival instincts grown during his stay in the place-between-dimensions were alerting him that something was very wrong here. He felt watched and vulnerable. Stalked. As they wandered the warehouse, the feeling grew and grew though he could never find any concrete evidence of anything following him no matter how many anxious glances he threw over his shoulder.
[color=#P1914]“Ah!” bellowed Ironjaw. “This looks like a pretty good spot to set up shop!”
They had come to a small clearing in the forest of shelves. A large metal container, likely at one point used for shipping but now fallen into rusted disrepair and filled with drifts of moldering paper and assorted random objects sat in the center of the space. Schuster estimated that the clearing was about fifteen meters across: small, but pretty much the most open space they'd found in their wanderings. The open space meant less of a chance of being caught by surprise. More time to spot anything approaching.[/color]
“Yes comrade, I would agree. If we clear out this container we could probably fortify it for defense with little trouble. Construction materials are plentiful here,” he said as he indicated the many stacks around them.
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw nodded and walked up to the container, peering inside.
“It's full to the brim with shit, of course. But we could get that out pretty easy.”[/color]
Schuster suddenly felt the feelings of unease strike with renewed vigor. He frantically searched around him for any sign of the malevolent presence he sensed but found nothing. It was impossible to ignore, though. He slid the revolver from its holster and held it ready in both hands. Ironjaw looked back from clearing out the container to eye him with confusion.
[color=#P1914]“What's the matter, mate?”[/color]
“Something is following us...” Schuster whispered back. “I know it is here.”
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw slowly reached for his rifle, making as little noise as he could.
“Where's the fucker at?” he whispered after he retrieved it and slunk towards Schuster, who was still looking in every direction.[/color]
“I do not know... it is there, though, I know it is.”
[color=#P1914]The shark-man shouldered the rifle, annoyance and anger apparent on his broad face.
“Look, you crazy bastard, there's nothing there. Again. Now quit dicking around and help me clear this box out.”[/color]
Schuster stared into his beady eyes. “No,” he said. “There is something here. It will kill us if we are not careful.”
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw laughed. “Really? REALLY? Then SHOW YOURSELF YOU BIG SCARY BASTARD!” he yelled, throwing both arms into the air and spinning around. Panic crossed Schuster's face and he ran to get the rusting hulk of the container between him and Ironjaw, who continued to laugh at his unease.
“Look, there's nothing here!” he shouted to Schuster. Schuster did not come out from behind the crate. Ironjaw stood in the open for a moment, arms still raised. He began to feel rather foolish and sheepishly put his arms down. “Schuster!” he called. “Come out! It's safe!”
Schuster did not come out.
Ironjaw walked back towards the container, pounding a meaty fist on its side. It rang with a metallic emptiness. “Schuster, come on. Quit fuckin' around.” He began to feel uneasy.
He rounded the side of the container, rifle in hands, to see nothing there. The uneasiness built to a feeling of cold dread in the pit of his stomach.
“Schuster?” he called quietly. He did not really expect a reply.[/color]
“He's up here,”
[color=#P1914] came the unexpected reply. The voice was slimy, grotesque and muffled. Like a human whose throat was full of the stuff at the bottom of a lake. Still, though, he recognized it.
He looked up.
Thize was perched on top of the container. At least, Ironjaw assumed it was Thize. The thing held a struggling Schuster in a multi-limbed grip, scabrous fingers wrapped tightly around his limbs and face. Ironjaw couldn't tell at a glance how many limbs the thing-that-was-once-Thize had, tangled as they were in a mass of protruding bone and oozing scabs.[/color]
“Aren't I beautiful?”
[color=#P1914]the thing crooned as it straightened up on a half-dozen legs. Standing on the crate, it loomed over Ironjaw, a horrific apparition of spidery limbs with the squirming Schuster clasped at its core. At the top of this mess of nightmare biology was Thize's face, its once-handsome features smashed, cut and shredded into a mess of scars, scabs and uneven ridges. A single human-looking eye peered from a mass of scar tissue. A clutch of glimmering orange lenses watched unblinking from where his other eye had been, appearing to have just blossomed from huge welts on his face. Ropy strands of pink and crimson fluid ran down his face and swung below his head, some dripping into Schuster's hair.
Ironjaw immediately fired a blast from the plasma rifle and flung himself back. The shot, poorly aimed in Ironjaw's haste to get away, blasted one of Thize's countless arms off. The shattered limb spewed black and pink ichor through the air.[/color]
“Is that all you can do?” Thize laughed, his voice burbling and breaking.
[color=#P1914]“What the fuck did she do to you?!” Ironjaw replied from behind a stack of crates.[/color]
“Made me beautiful. Made me understand what it means to be alive. Please...” His voice dissolved into sobs and wretching.
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw carefully peeked around from behind the crate to see the misshapen creature crumpled atop the cargo crate. Schuster lay unmoving, wrapped in disembodied arms beside him. Thize wept into a few hands.
Leveling the gun, Ironjaw swept around the stack and shouted to Thize. “What the fuck are you trying? Think I'm going to fall for this shit?” The horrifying shape lifted its swaying head and locked its dozens of eyes with Ironjaw's.[/color]
“I saw what it means. What everything means,” he choked out. Finishing that sentence, he collapsed into another fit of sobs.
[color=#P1914]“Shut up!” Ironjaw bellowed, now thoroughly infuriated. The thing that had been stalking them for so long, that captured his comrade, was acting like a fragile little girl. If there was anything Ironjaw hated, it was weakness.
“Quit your BLUBBERING!” he screamed as he advanced. He grabbed a low-hanging arm and pulled Thize from the crate, slamming his head into the concrete floor. Ironjaw lifted a booted foot and brought it crashing down into his skull with a savagely satisfying stomp.[/color]
Thize spat blood and teeth across the floor, head still pinned under Ironjaw's tread. “Please...” he started before dissolving into spluttering tears.
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw growled under his breath and stomped again, this time on Thize's chest. More detritus spewed from his mouth.
“What the FUCK have you done with Schuster?!” he began, punctuated with another stomp on an extraneous arm, snapping it clean in half. Thize howled and squealed. The wound sprayed ichor over Ironjaw's arm and face.[/color]
“I... I need to take you and him to her... to show her the truth... PLEASE.” Thize's voice was strained to the point of rising several octaves, breaking far past a normal human limit.
[color=#P1914]It sounded truly horrific and served only to infuriate the raging Ironjaw further. He raised Thize up off the ground to bring their faces level.
“You're not taking me anywhere, you PIECE OF SHIT!” he screamed, slamming Thize onto the ground. Bellowing madly, he grabbed a limb with both arms and swung Thize like a human flail, smashing his ungainly body into the container. He heard countless frail bones shattering as the misshapen thing slammed into the metal.
Ironjaw attacked unrelentingly. He pounced directly into the central mass of Thize's limbs, punching through their shattered remains to slam blow after blow into the twitching fish-thing's body and face. Each hit threw up another puff of blood as Thize was literally torn apart under Ironjaw's huge fists.
When at last the hulking shark-man stood up, Thize was dead. His body lay absolutely demolished against the container and splattered out across the floor. Ironjaw breathed heavily under a fume of blood. It dripped from his fists. It soaked his clothes. It ran down his broad face into his mouth.
He bellowed in wordless rage, the scent of iron so deep in his mind he could think of nothing else.
There was no reply. He sank to his knees and sat for a moment, wiping blood from his eyes. It was at this point that something occurred to him.
In his blind rage, he had forgotten entirely the entire reason he was here. To kill another contestant. To move to the next round. And Thize, he was a contestant. And Thize is dead.
Sharp pain spiked through his right shoulder. He grunted and tried to turn but something pinned him from the left, then pulled him back down hard. The back of his head slammed into the floor, stunning him for a moment.
As his vision swam back he saw the face of Thize staring down at him, again radically reorganized. A single eye blinked from the center of his face. Three smaller eyes were arrayed across his forehead. His mouth lolled hugely wide, tongue hanging down past a massive protrusion of razor teeth. He held Ironjaw down with multiple spidery limbs to each of Ironjaw's own.[/color]
“Didn't think I'd go down that quickly do you?”
[color=#P1914]he said as neon saliva dribbled from his tongue to land on Ironjaw's chest. His voice was strangely smooth compared to its previous choked quality. It took Ironjaw a moment to realize there was a small mouth, its lips perfect blue and unmarred, nestled at the back of his hugely gaping maw. Thize cocked his head to the side, awaiting a reply. Ironjaw groaned and tried to fight free but Thize's countless arms held him in place. [/color]
“That would be insulting. But I don't care. I don't mind being insulted anymore, you see. This isn't about me anymore.”
[color=#P1914]“You crazy bitch,” Ironjaw coughed out. “I hope your master chains you up in the darkest hell.”[/color]
“Hell? HELL? What do you think this is, a joke? I'm not joking around, Ironjaw. Not anymore. No more stupid games. I've decided you and the Russian aren't worth my time. I'll teach the girl myself.”
[color=#P1914]Hearing this, Ironjaw struggled again but to no avail. Thize's arms possessed a wiry strength that had been entirely absent previously.
“Please,” Ironjaw growled contemptuously past rows of gritted teeth. “I ate you alive. I'll do it again.” With that, he kicked out with both legs, arching his back and powerfully bucking at Thize's grip. Some of the arms lost their lock and Ironjaw rolled hard to the left, breaking dozens of fingers and springing free.[/color]
Thize's mouth stretched even wider as he screeched, a horrific sound halfway between a ramjet and a dying cat. He leapt backwards and gathered his arms together for another lunge.
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw charged headlong, rushing straight towards him. Thize sprang high into the air, passing over Ironjaw's head and latching countless limbs onto his arms, legs and back. As he arced towards the ground, he pulled hard, hurling Ironjaw to the floor.
His grip now was like iron. There was no escaping the grasping limbs. Ironjaw thrashed and bit but could not avoid being hoisted into the air. Suddenly he jerked forward and felt himself soaring through the air, flailing his arms for balance.
He managed to fall somewhat upright in a stack of cardboard boxes. Their contents seemed relatively soft. A strange blessing, he thought. What good luck. He saw the twisting mass of Thize hurtling towards him and rolled to the side, falling down the stack to the floor.
Thize perched atop the stack and looked down at him.[/color]
“You are tough.”
[color=#P1914]“You are weak,” Ironjaw spat in reply.[/color]
Thize's huge mouth curled into something like a beatific grin.
“I was. No longer.” With that, he catapulted suddenly into the air, high above Ironjaw's head, nearly touching the ceiling of the storehouse. He arrowed down towards Ironjaw, limbs forming a point in front of him.
[color=#P1914]Ironjaw, seeing this coming for several whole seconds, casually stepped to the side and allowed Thize to slam into the concrete in a bloody jumble of splintered limbs.
“Nice jump. Pretty high.” He kicked a mangled section of arm back at the barely twitching Thize. His neck was clearly broken in countless places. His skull was shattered, exposing his brain. Ironjaw doubted this would slow him down for long, so immediately ran off through the crate maze.[/color]
Eriz and Guillemet crouched in the center of the trap-field. Around them was a small safe-zone of crates full of odd parts and machines. Beyond that was the standard storage-building crate stacks, but filled with deadly traps. In the boxes, under the shelves, overhanging the walkways, countless deadly bombs, blades and spikes lurked.
“Do you think he's coming back?” Eriz nervously asked her companion.
“OF COURSE HE IS. HE'S GOING TO TRY TO KILL US, RIGHT? THAT'S WHAT YOU SAID.”
Eriz did not immediately reply. She had had little time to think about the insane episode she had recently experienced in the domain of the thing that called itself the Artiste. It had told her little but terrified her greatly.
“Well...” she started, her voice wavering. “I think so. It wasn't entirely clear.”
“NOT ENTIRELY CLEAR?”
Eriz filled Guillemet in on her current relationship with the Artiste, sparing only the details about how terrified and helpless she had felt during most of their conversations. Guillemet listened with rapt attention until she finished her story.
“IN YOUR ATTEMPT TO ELUCIDATE THIS MATTER YOU HAVE ONLY MANAGED TO CONFUSE ME FURTHER. YOU'RE TELLING ME THAT YOU'VE MANAGED TO WIN THE HEART OF A BEING FROM ANOTHER UNIVERSE, WITH POWERS FAR BEYOND OUR OWN?”
“I guess... that's one way you could put it.”
“DAMN GIRL I DIDN'T THINK YOU HAD IT IN YOU,” she said with a huge toothy grin.
Eriz let out a static-edged sigh and went back to surveying the perimeter. She knew that the first sign of an approaching being would be traps going off, but she couldn't stop herself from trying to spot Thize's return.
A blood-curdling bellow suddenly sounded through the warehouse. She immediately rose to her full height, hammer at the ready, laser arm poised high over her head as she scanned around her. Her suit showed no movement, though, and none of the traps had been set off as far as she could tell.
“THE FUCK WAS THAT?” Guillemet growled nervously next to her.
“Sounded male. Probably Thize. But possibly the shark-man.”
The two stood warily for perhaps a minute, slowly turning back-to-back to watch every inch of the perimeter. Their concentration was interrupted by a huge crash in the near distance.
“Getting closer,” Eriz muttered under her breath.
Moments later they saw a strange spidery figure spring into the air near the source of the sound. It flew up, almost scraping the ceiling with its numerous flailing limbs before pulling together into a tight point and speeding down towards the floor. It vanished behind the numerous stacks of crates but a loud thud echoed through the warehouse.
“By the Ship,” Eriz whispered, “was that Thize?”
“HAD TO BE. IRONJAW IS A LITTLE PORTLY FOR JUMPS LIKE THAT. ALSO SHORT A FEW EXTREMITIES.”
Suddenly an explosion boomed through the warehouse. Crates flew into the air in a burst of light and smoke on the outer edge of the trap perimeter, accompanied by a loud bellow like the one they had heard before. As the yelling came closer, it gradually started to form audible words.
[color=#P1914]“LET ME THROUGH THE PERIMETER, HE'S RIGHT BEHIND ME!”[/color] the voice, clearly Ironjaw's, shouted.
“Um...” Eriz looked at Guillemet.
“DON'T LOOK AT ME. I GUESS SOME WAY TO TURN OFF THE TRAPS MIGHT HAVE BEEN A PRETTY GOOD IDEA.”
Eriz upped the amplification on her speakers and shouted to Ironjaw.
“There's no way we can turn off the traps! Stay back!”
[color=#P1914]“Damn it, girl! If I stay here, I'm royally fucked!”[/color]
Eriz thought about what Ironjaw was saying. If Thize killed him, the round would end. No matter what happened here, someone was going to die. She did not particularly dislike Ironjaw but... better him than her.
“Sorry, there's nothing we can do!” she shouted back. Guillemet arched her long neck to look her in the face.
“DAMN THAT'S COLD.”
“It's just the truth,” she replied glumly.
Guillemet seemed about to reply when a second explosion sounded, very close to the first. Both immediately turned to see Thize's spidery figure launched into the air, trailing bits of limbs, molten skin and flame as he arced up and back down. A third explosion followed shortly. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. Getting closer.
“Oh no,” Eriz said softly, shocked. “He's coming through the field.”
“JESUS CHRIST. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST. WE ARE SO FUCKED RIGHT NOW, I THINK HE'S LITERALLY INSUPERABLE,” Guillemet replied. Suddenly a realization crossed her face. Hope rose in Eriz's heart; could Guillemet's mad genius pull through? A grin bisected the dragon's face.
“I JUST REMEMBERED I CAN FLY!” she shouted as she leapt into the air. “SORRY ERIZ. NO HARD FEELINGS BUT YOU'RE A LITTLE HEAVY. GOOD LUCK! I REALLY HOPE YOU DON'T DIE!” With that, she flew up near the ceiling and then away from Eriz, towards a far corner of the warehouse.
Watching her last hope flee, Eriz stood still in the center of the minefield. Explosions like the footfalls of giants grew closer and closer, until debris were pattering off her armor like rain. Twenty meters. Fifteen meters. Ten meters.
Thize flew over the last row of crates, propelled by an exploding mine. He was blackened and charred, missing huge pieces of flesh and trailing boiling blood, smoke and fire. His huge mouth, like that of a deep-sea fish, was gaping monstrously. He had far too many eyes.
A Sauthai fights, the battle-master in the back of her head screamed. Fight or die, it's the Sauthai way!
When I fought, I failed, she thought. Memories of beatings, staffs and swords and fists and knives and clubs and blood, mostly her own. A huge metal hand ramming into her sternum, feeling it even through so much metal, lifting her off the floor and slamming her onto her back. Memories of a war-host assembled under Nalahai's huge central dome.
Why do we fight? the commander bellowed to his troops. TO LIVE! they answered as a single being.
Why do we live? he raised a massive sword over his head. TO FIGHT! the host roared. Light flashed off countless face-domes.
Thize arced through the air towards her, creeping slowly along his trajectory. Flames rippled languidly behind him. His mouth stretched even wider.
We fight because we must, her father told her. Your mother died fighting so that we could live.
She fell heavily to her knees. Her hammer lay forgotten next to her. The laser arm drooped by her side. Thize's outstretched hands were a meter from her, reaching with huge claws.
I am no Sauthai, she thought as his claws scraped at her face-dome with impossible slowness. Warrior. It means warrior. I am no warrior. I am a coward.
Moments before he crashed into her, both figures vanished. The only evidence they had ever existed at all was a brief woosh of air rushing to fill the vacuum left by their departure.
A headless figure stepped out from behind a crate at the edge of the safe zone. He held a camera phone, forgotten, by his side.
“Holy shit,” he whispered in awe.
you did not really think i would just let you give up and die did you metal girl
to go through all that trouble just to see you throw your life away would be such a waste such a waste of a perfect metal girl
Eriz found herself laying on her back, still encased in her sauthorn. Crimson space, warmly and evenly lit by something she could not see, filled her vision. She sat up slowly, warily looking around her. She was in the center of a large disk of glimmering silver metal, maybe thirty meters in diameter. At its edges was merely more red void.
She suddenly heard a clattering noise from the edge of the disk. She sprang to her feet, grabbing her hammer from where it lay beside her.
A hand reached over the edge of the disk. And then another. And another. And still another, and more, until a dozen hands held the edge of the disk. Suddenly a shape swung itself up from below, landing on countless splayed limbs. Thize.
“Are you here to finish me off?” Eriz asked, voice trembling but feeling strangely courageous.
“No,” he replied. His voice seemed totally normal despite the riotous changes that had overtaken his body. The gaping fish-maw she had seen earlier was gone, replaced with a vertical row of four human-looking mouths. Only the topmost spoke. “I'm here to fight you. Like we were always meant to. Two come in but only one can leave, the Master told me. Me or you.”
Of course. That monstrosity wouldn't really have been trying to save her. For all its talk of love and admiration it seemed hell-bent on inflicting as much misery as it could conjure up on her. She gripped her hammer with both hands and raised it to her shoulder, readying for the charge she was sure would come shortly.
“Get it over with,” she growled at him past gritted teeth.
“There's no rush,” he replied, folding his multitudinous limbs under himself and sitting down on the smooth metal of the platform. “Time doesn't pass in here unless it wishes it to. We will emerge from this space at precisely the moment the Master desires us to.”
Eriz, confused, kept a tight grip on her hammer and did not move from her combat-ready stance. Thize fixed his eyes (two now, thankfully) on her and raised a hand, gesturing for her to come towards him.
“Would you like to talk?”
The question came out of nowhere and confused Eriz even more. “A-about what?” she stammered, lowering the hammer slightly.
“Why? Why are you suddenly so friendly? Don't we have to fight to the death?” she asked cautiously.
“Who says the two are mutually exclusive? I'd like to know more about you before we finish this.”
This is insane, Eriz thought. But then again, is it really any more insane than anything else that had happened to her in the last few hours? Not really.
Fuck it, she thought. She walked over and sat down near Thize, near the edge of the platform. She left a few meters distance between them, though. She certainly didn't trust him.
“It changed everything,” Thize said suddenly. “Meeting the Master, I mean. Everything. What did I care about before? It's almost hard to remember. Swimming? Bubbles? Style? Fish puns? Do any of those things even mean anything? How could I have cared so much about such trash? They just seem so trivial, so pointless...” his voice trailed off as tears welled up in his eyes. The lower part of his face fell off, taking with it his bottom three mouths. He eyed the fallen piece of face with a morose look as it evaporated into crimson steam. “None of it seems to matter anymore. I just want to be closer to the Master now. Nothing else has meaning.”
Eriz, incredibly confused by his sudden glut of words but realizing she should probably just roll with it, took a moment to reply. “What did it do to you?”
Thize looked into her eyes, the ragged flesh of his chin already smoothing over and bubbling into new forms. “It showed me everything,” he said. “Every person. Every planet. Every universe. Every physical law, every kind of truth, every flavor of beauty. And... and...” He broke into ragged sobs, fat glowing pink tears running down his face, which had morphed itself, she realized, back into its original fish-mutant state.
“And... what?” she answered.
“And now I can't remember it,” he choked. “And will I ever know it again? Was that one my one chance? Was it a test? Did I fail?” His voice was wavering, broken.
“It told me that you reacted poorly. I don't know what that means, though.”
“Poorly? Poorly? I just wanted to keep knowing, to never forget. Everything. Every single thing. It knows everything, you know.”
“Everything? I doubt that,” Eriz said. “It told me itself that there are always more unknowns.”
“To you, yes. To me, and you, and all the other blind worms. But not to the Master. Everything, metal girl. Every single thing. I knew it too, for a short time. So short.”
“And how do you know it was really everything?”
“Because I knew everything. I knew that I knew everything because I knew everything.”
“That's...” she pondered how forward she should be with such a clearly unstable creature. “That's pretty circular logic.”
“You would understand if you had known what I had known.” He sighed heavily. “And now everything just seems so meaningless, so pointless. I have seen true enlightenment, metal girl. Nothing else could ever come close.”
“You keep calling me that. Picked it up from the Artiste?”
“Yeah, it... well, it fits. Better than you know. The Master, it's got plans for you. Lots of plans. Me? I'm just another failed project. A stupid, stupid reject. Reacted poorly.” He seemed about to break into tears again but managed to recover. “It was never about the bodies, you know.”
“Its art?” she queried.
“Yes. The bodies, the sculptures, that's all secondary. Like pencil shavings brushed off a desk once the piece is finished.”
“Then what is it about?” she asked, dreading that she knew the response.
“The lives that used to be in the bodies. It works in lives. Sometimes just one, or two, maybe a little group. Sometimes a city, or a whole planet of lives. Sometimes more. The bodies are waste. Sometimes little diversions but never the focus of the show.”
“And right now, we're center stage.”
“I feel ready to perform,” she said suddenly, startling even herself. Thize just calmly nodded and rose on his many limbs.
“You changed your mind. I am glad. You are no coward. Your father would be proud.”
“How...” she started before trailing off, remembering what Thize had told her. He looked at her with anticipation. “Give me a minute,” she said, walking across the platform.
“Of course. Take your time.”
Eriz stopped at the opposite edge from Thize. She held her hammer out in front of her and began to sing.
One must understand a few facts about the Sauthai. To a Sauthai, combat is everything. They are literally bred for battle. A program of eugenics and genetic modification centuries in the past has adapted them for their specific brand of combat. For a Sauthai, bulky musculature and intense physical fitness are pointless or even detrimental. All that matters is grace and reaction time.
Her ancestors inserted special glands into their bodies. These produced huge quantities of adrenaline and other chemicals, allowing the people who would become the Sauthai to reach superhuman speed and agility in combat. In the southern countries the kyelz speak of Sauthai catching bullets in the hands, dodging shells and fighting in close quarters with a horrifying ease that escapes description. And all the while, over the clamor of the battlefield, they sing.
Suitsong, it is called. She learned to sing it even before she could speak. Suitsong has no words and no meaning. It is the catalyst used to trigger the deadly trance all Sauthai enter during combat. It is a song of war and only war.
As she sang, her voice shifting high and low, following a strange cadence, she stamped a foot. Then the other. Slowly the rhythm became faster and faster, the song higher and more frenetic. Her singing voice was not beautiful, but the haunting, warping tones of the suitsong had a strange quality that many found entrancing.
Eriz could almost feel the chemicals pumping through her bloodstream. The red glow of the void grew brighter as her pupils dilated. Her heart beat faster and faster, following the rising tempo of the song. Everything seemed to slow down.
She raised her hammer in one hand, still singing. She pointed it at Thize and retracted her aux-arms, the traditional sign of the challenge. He nodded.
The sky around the platform suddenly filled with a dense cloud of windmilling blades. Fat bolts of purple lightning flickered between them and shone off their mirror-bright surfaces. Thize ran at her, glints of purple glimmering off his eyes and glossy skin.
They met in the middle of the platform under the churning maelstrom. He reached out with several arms, grabbing for her arms and weapon, but her momentum was simply too great. She crashed into him shoulder-first, then brought the hammer up from below in a devastating sweep. She felt ribs shatter under the impact as he flew back and slid across the platform.
Never let up, the battle-master screamed, push your attack until there is nothing left to push!
She came bearing down on him with all the force of a crashing meteor, raising her hammer high over her head and singing at the top of her lungs, the song almost a feral scream. As she brought it down, Thize rolled to the side. She swept it after him but he sprang over it with lethal agility, latching onto the haft of the weapon with several arms while others grabbed at her arms and shoulders.
Eriz felt herself dangerously destabilizing as Thize tried to pull her to the side, straining to move her massive form. The song wavered, her voice tremulous as she struggled to keep her balance. He jerked all his limbs suddenly, and she stumbled. Three legs wrapped around one of her own, tripping her, and she fell with a tremendous metallic crash to the ground.
Her leg twisted badly as she fell, her knee wrapped in arms. Her own mass worked against her, wrenching the joint.
“Motor six-two-four, code seven,” the suit's voice intoned. Critical loss of function, she knew instantly. Motor six-two-four. Secondary motor, right knee.
Thize sprang back. As she pulled herself to her feet a new limb sprouted from his chest like a fleshy vine. Rapidly it grew to a length twice that of his other extremities, and at its tip a huge glimmering blade reflected the sporadic purple light of the chaos surrounding them.
Thize regarded this new addition to his body with an awe bordering on religious fascination, holding its gleaming edge near to his face and stroking it with a finger. The finger fell to ground, sliced in half. He grinned.
The suitsong rose rapidly in pitch and tempo as Eriz charged again, thundering down on Thize with her hammer cocked to the side for a sweeping blow. The charge was slowed by her damaged knee, though, and the attack was obvious. Thize ducked smoothly under it and lashed out with the new blade, slashing across her chest. It scored deep in the ornamented metal, cutting a long groove diagonally across her chest but failing to fully pierce through the thick layers of armor.
She spun, trying to keep Thize in front of her, but he moved with a smooth liquid grace on his many limbs. Every time she swung her heavy weapon he dodged it and counterattacked, adding more deep gashes and scratches in her sauthorn. Luckily none had yet pierced through its many layers, but she was sure that soon his blade would find a thin point and break through. The suitsong became more frantic.
You can't always win by being the strongest, the battle-master shouted. Sometimes one must rely on the drive for victory alone to finish a fight! To a Sauthai, failure is not an option!
She swung again, a low sweep this time, aiming to shatter some of his legs. Thize nimbly sprang over it as he had so effortlessly before, slashing the blade down at her shoulder. It glanced off the articulated plates, shearing off a few slivers of metal. Eriz found herself dangerously out of position, her hammer far to the side, exposing her body.
Thize, seeing this opening, landed his evasive dodge and followed with a tackle straight at Eriz's chest. His body collided with hers, his limbs already latching onto every hold they could get. The impact nearly knocked Eriz to the ground but she managed to stay upright, song building in intensity.
Thize leveled the blade with her belly, its point seeking the small gap between overlapping motive plates and angling upwards towards her heart.
With a sudden shrieking chorus Eriz dropped her hammer and enfolded Thize in a crushing bear-hug, feeling bones snapping like twigs under her hydraulic grip. Pumping adrenaline obscured everything but Thize's face, flawless, just as it had been before his transformation, in front of her.
She stepped forwards, holding Thize against her chest.
“Motors four-nine-nine, four-nine-eight, four-nine-five, code seven.” Abdominal motion systems. His blade had made it through the outer plating.
She fell forwards, the bright metal of the platform rushing towards her. The suitsong reached a screaming climax.
773.24 kilograms of metal, carbon composites and meat can fall with a lot of kinetic energy. Thize's head shattered like an eggshell as it was crushed between the jutting sternum of her armor and the unyielding metallic floor. His chest folded in on itself with a sickening crack. Blood and brain splattered across the floor. The song ended.
beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful
The blades overhead spun faster and the purple arcs flickered madly.
to think i even doubted you for a moment metal girl what a fool i was
Eriz pushed herself off Thize's smashed corpse with her arms, slowly levering herself off the smear of pulped fish-man and standing up. Her movements were stiff and cumbersome, hampered by her armor's damaged motors. They were in the center of the platform, she noticed with detached curiosity. The battle-trance chemicals were wearing off. Her mind felt slow and fuzzy. Thize's blade was still embedded in her abdomen, its long arm drooping to the floor where it met with his crushed chest.
Thize's limbs, splayed like those of a smashed spider, began to hiss and bubble, dissolving slowly into crimson mist that diffused into the redness of the space around them. As they boiled away, his pulped body slowly reformed itself, pooling together into a mass of reddish-pink skin, raw and new looking. His head was the last to reform, pieces of skull floating into the air and settling together like a macabre puzzle before skin grew over them.
Thize opened his eyes, looking up at Eriz from where he lay on the floor, naked and whole and mostly human again.
oh dear it looks like he is still breathing who would have thought that
you will have to deal with that i suppose only one can leave alive only one
Eriz pulled the blade from her abdomen with both hands. As it wrenched free, a dribble of clear fluid ran down her armor, then a gush of bright arterial red . On the end of the blade, blood glimmered in the sporadic violet light. It clattered to the floor. She felt suddenly light-headed.
oh come now this is not the time for such things you have a duty to do metal girl
Thize smiled up at her from the floor. His face was utterly calm. Eriz stumbled, catching herself before she could fall. She found herself reaching unsteadily for her hammer. She could not see her injury but its cold numbness seemed to be spreading across her torso.
good good good beautiful now do it rise metal girl your sun awaits
Thize lay perfectly still below her, a beatific look fixed on his face. She felt suddenly disgusted, seeing him laying there unmoving when he had fought against her so hard. The hammer was in her hand now. She raised it to her shoulder.
She waited, expecting Thize to leap up, to suddenly attack, transforming into some newer and even more horrific form. He did not move. Sweat ran down her face in streams, the interior limbs of her face-dome rapidly sponging it away.
waiting for something metal girl maybe for someone to take your picture
She took the hammer in both hands.
She raised it over her head.
She brought the hammer down as hard as she could.
I'm dead now, aren't I? For good?
She actually had the guts to do it. I guess you were right in the end. No surprise there.
Before I go...
you wish to remember
She awoke in darkness. Switching her dome's display confirmed she was in some kind of container, surrounded by musty cardboard and other random detritus. The Coach's warehouse, of course. Her body ached but the cold nerveless feeling that had clung to her abdomen was gone.
A minute later, she stood in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the huge building and looked at the ruin Thize had inflicted on her armor. Deep slashes crisscrossed her chest and arms. The abdominal plates were ruined, bent out of shape. The motors beneath were in even worse shape, not responding to any queries from her central processor. Her right knee bent stiffly and slowly. The damage would require mending. She could only hope that the injuries she had sustained were truly healed.
At her feet lay her hammer, pushed from the container along with a slough of debris as she had struggled out of its confinement. As she bent to pick it up, a strange glint caught her eye. She pulled it from the pile of junk where it lay half-buried and immediately noticed a bizarre addition.
One end of the hammer seemed to have been melted, oozing in irregular blobby patterns around an object that had evidently been forced into the molten metal before it was allowed to cool.
The unearthly edge Thize had impaled her with shone under the warehouse lights, jutting like the blade of a scythe from one side of her hammer. An object she had carried throughout all of her adult life, the symbol of her Sauthai warrior's pride, now perverted by the Artiste's strange whimsy.
She sighed a sigh of sheer exhaustion and sat heavily on the ground. At least, she observed, it was very sharp.