IC: Sohmak - Spineless Bay, middle of river
Ancestors, I hope no one can see this.
The brawler pawed pathetically at the river waters. The weight of the great gauntlets caging his arms made swimming out of the question, and meant the abandoned little boat he'd kicked from the shore barely kept him afloat, barely worthy of the classification "boat". He'd have used the oars but they snapped like twigs in his mighty crush-grip.
For hardly the first time since wandering out this far, Sohmak cursed his luck. He cursed the Sluggers, and the scrapper that did this to him. It would hardly be the last time either.
Sohmak sought battle. A warrior with power enough to destroy the Sluggers, to free him from the shackles that held his arms and ego in equal measure.
He wondered if any such warrior existed in all of Zakaz.
Some Days Prior - Irnakk's Tooth, Sarke Clubhouse
The smack of fist meeting temple. The thud of Skakdi meeting floor. The whayyyyy! of a crowd of onlookers.
Sohmak panted for breath and rubbed his knuckles; a harder fight than he'd expected. He grinned down as his opponent, half out of respect, half out of well-placed pride. Every victory Sohmak earned in Sarke was all his own.
He held a hand out to the downed Skakdi, pulling them up and into a one-armed hug, exchanging wishes to exchange blows again down the line. Another, slightly inebriated, Skakdi called out across the room, challenging Sohmak. But even champions had their limits, and it was time to retire for the night.
"Tomorrow," Sohmak promised.
Stepping out of the clubhouse, a little shack tucked away in the shadow of Irnakk's Tooth, Sohmak took a deep breath of the crisp air. His moment of peace did not last; he was suddenly aware of a presence behind him, a hooded shade lurking outside the door. Every time his fight-or-flight response kicked in, he'd never chosen flight. He spun around fast and grabbed the being by the throat, slamming their back against the wall.
"I'm unarmed! I'm unarmed!" a feeble voice, but a Skakdi's voice no less, chirped from beneath the hood.
"So am I," snarled Sohmak, his fierce grip tightening. "You've got nerve trying to jump anyone in there. Bad luck it was me, eh?"
The hooded Skakdi could barely draw breath, clutching at Sohmak's arm uselessly. The brawler sighed disappointedly, seeing that they were pathetic and of no harm. Releasing his grip, the stranger dropped to the ground, sucking breath.
"Beat it, heu:nii."
The stranger panted and wheezed for a time before drawing himself to his feet, his hood falling back to reveal a purple face, though Sohmak couldn't tell if it was Gravity or asphyxiation.
Sohmak lowered his arms but kept them tense, his fists curled tightly. He'd been ambushed in the streets before, low-life Sarke-wannabes who fancied a go at the famed fighter, but no one had been so brazen to try and attack him right on the doorstep of the clubhouse.
"Then beat it, Syntak. Ain't got time for rotters like you," he growled.
"And you're... Sohmak..." the snivelling Syntak continued as though he hadn't been dismissed, raising his gaze to meet the brawler's. "...the Spineless Slugger."
So Syntak was here for him. He wound up to clobber the pathetic Skakdi, who held out a hand in desperate protest.
"No, please! I do not seek to quarrel! Though..." And here Syntak seemed to lost himself in thought. "...to be punched by the mighty Sohmak would be a high honour indeed! The Sonic Striker! The Bite of Irnakk's Tooth! He who forsakes all advantage! No weapon, no vision power, you deny even the rage borne of a Spine Slug! I-I've seen your handiwork, your dance oh-so-violent! From afar, of course, I wouldn't dare partake myself..."
So he's a creep and a coward.
Sohmak cut through Syntak's ramblings with a snap of his fingers, bringing the cloaked Skakdi back to the present moment. "My apologies, but much as you likely seek to visit violence upon my person, I do not come before you to fight; I wish instead to make an offer. One tailored just for you, Sohmak."
The brawler rolled his eyes. The stranger was far too well-spoken to be another drunk. Heck, he was far too well-spoken full stop. The company Sohmak usually kept was far more blunt, or sharp depending on the weapons they brought to the ring.
And yet, he'd caught Sohmak's interest. Syntak was aware of his reputation, and he hated to think that he was at least a little curious about the strange Skakdi's offer. Any funny business, and Syntak wouldn't last long anyways.
Sohmak shrugged. "Screw it. What've you got for me?"
Irnakk's Tooth, Syntak's Workshop
"Hey, not so tight, yeah?!"
The device's harness was tight, the myriad straps and buckles biting into Sohmak's shoulders and cutting in under his ribs. Mechanical armatures sprouted from a curious little engine on the harness's back and ran down along his arms, terminating in two altogether-too-big Protosteel gauntlets, themselves housing brutal three-fingered claws.
Sohmak grunted in discomfort as Syntak almost skipped around him in excitement making final adjustments, and attempted to lift a heavy hand.
"Not yet!" the scientist yelled in alarm, pushing the gauntlet back down. "You'll damage the exoskeleton!"
"Then get a move on!" Sohmak roared back. "I could be having a nice little kip right now, instead I'm playing training dummy for some scrap-tinker geek who couldn't tell a shovel from a shovel hook!"
"Test subject," Syntak corrected, missing the barb in Sohmak's stinging statement. "You're right, I don't have a fighting bone in my body. My technical prowess far outweighs my capacity for violence; your skill and brutality in unarmed combat make you far more suited to testing the apparatus than I."
"And you reckon you should be proud of that?" Sohmak sneered contemptuously. "Surprised you still have all your teeth with that attitude, and if you don't hurry up I'll start playing dentist too."
More silent fidgeting before Syntak finally stepped away. "There, how does that feel?"
"Feels like you've strapped me up and weighed me down so you can have a pop at me." The brawler's patience was on a knife-edge.
"The harness is a prototype, improvements to user comfort will be made in future iterations. Right now we're testing the gauntlets and exoskeletal support mechanisms. Allow me." Syntak went to step behind Sohmak, the fighter side-stepping and blocking his path.
"No games, heu:nii."
Syntak nodded, trying his best to suppress his frightful shaking. "N-no games." Allowed to move past, he started fiddling with various switches and knobs on the engine, a low humming rising in pitch until it became ultrasonic, ringing faintly in Sohmak's attuned ears. With a final dramatic flick of a big red switch, the device came to life.
Instantly the weight that threated to pop Sohmak's shoulders from their sockets vanished. He looked back to Syntak in surprised, who was fastening a Protosteel shell over the engine. The scrapper beamed, returning a thumbs-up, and Sohmak cautiously lifted an arm.
It moved as though the gauntlet wasn't there, the armature holding its weight steadfast and moving in sync with him. He raised the other gauntlet out in front, looking on them with bewilderment and a newfound appreciation.
"What spell have you cast? Making Protosteel light as air?"
Syntak grinned like an idiot, overflowing with glee at the initial success. "Not a spell, Sohmak. Not magic. Science. Engineering."
"Call it what you want... it's a bit blooding brilliant." The fighter was starting to beam as well.
Syntak became bashful. "I was wondering what to call them. The Exo-Fists, the Punch-Harders..." His eye lingered from the brawler. "I settled on a name in honour of you. I-I call them the Sluggers."
This summoned a deep belly laugh from Sohmak, and he dared to think he was beginning to like the geek.
Syntak joined in with a loud chuckle. "Go on then, throw a punch! A shovel hook or whatever you said! Show me how the Spineless Slugger does it!"
The Spineless Slugger, still smiling with savage delight, cracked his neck and assumed a familiar fighting stance.
All the materials Syntak had laid out for testing stood no chance. Rocks turned to dust between the Sluggers' mighty crush-jaws. A boulder, rolled with great difficulty into the workshop some days prior, reduced to rubble. Sheets of steel, dented and cracked and finally punched clean though.
More impressive still was the speed and elegance with which Sohmak moved, in spite of the heavy Protosteel encasing his arms. He struggled initially with the cognitive disconnect; he could see them, he could feel the rudimentary padding against his forearms and his fingers gripping the crush-jaw triggers. But throwing a punch felt like he was bare-knuckle, the familiar fluidity giving way to brutish power like he'd never known. It truly seemed there was no limit to the Sluggers' power.
Which was a problem.
Much as he was enjoying himself, Sohmak heaved a reluctant sigh. "...not really my thing."
Syntak, guffawing like a fool not moments before, froze. The brawler's disapproval cut like a knife. "They're... n-not to your liking?"
Sohmak saw the scrapper begin to quiver and rolled his eyes. "Hey, hey, don't take it personally, geek. First, you came to me so you know how I do things. And you know that what I do is more than just punching and crushing, there's... nuance." The word felt unfamiliar in his mouth, and he was unsure if he was using it right at all. He raised a Slugger. "These don't have nua... nu... that. I can't grab, I can't grapple. They punch, and they crush, and they're very good at that, but only that."
Syntak slumped against the wall of the workshop, defeated. "I understand. Fine motor control of the crush-jaws was to come in a later iteration, but I see now that they're not fit for purpose. Your purpose. It was foolish to me to approach a weaponless fighter and ask him to take one up. Blinded by my pride..."
For about the first time in his life, a pang of sympathy for a weedy runt like Syntak entered the brawler's stony heart. He went to lay a hand on the scrapper's shoulder before realising he'd tear his arm off if he did, and withdrew.
"I think we're done here, Syntak. Get these things off me, yeah?"
"Right..." Syntak pulled himself back up and began working at the sturdy mechanisms clamping the Sluggers to Sohmak's arms.
Entirely too long had passed and Sohmak felt the scrapper almost tugging at the locks on the contraption.
"I can't get them off..."
Were Sohmak not a Skakdi of Sonics, he would not have heard the barely audible admission. His response was immediate, and more of a command than a query.
"What did you say?"
"What did you SAY, ROTTER?!"
"Ican'tgetthemoff!" Syntak spat out, scurrying away from Sohmak in a panic to hide behind his workbench.
The bench provided no obstacle for the Spineless Slugger, his crush-jaws tearing into the steel slab like tinfoil before flinging it across the room. He threw a hook, stopping millimetres from Syntak's head.
"What did you say. Slowly."
"I can't get them off... I-I designed the mechanisms securing the harness and gauntlets to the user to be robust, impregnable even. I guess I forgot to... d-d-design a way for the user to open them again..."
"You forgot?? You've TRAPPED me in these blasted things! Imagine if I rocked up to a Sarke pit in these! ME! I'd be laughed right into Kino-bloody-Ur!" The crush-jaws snapped open and closed with a heavy clank, the armature tensed and ready to fire. "You've ruined me. Tell me why I shouldn't take your head off right now."
"B-because... because you need me to release you, right?" Syntak rose slowly to his feet, the Slugger following his head all the way up. "I designed the locking mechanisms, I'm the only one who knows how they work, I can... f-figure out a way to unlock them, to get you out!"
"Then do it, geek. Now."
"No!" He yelled without thinking, covering his mouth in horror. Slowly taking his hand away, he gambled on his life. "Not now... I-I need time to think... tomorrow! Tomorrow I'll have something. Come back here tomorrow, and I can unlock the Sluggers and free you, yes?"
Sohmak's eyes narrowed. He didn't believe the scrapper for a second, but he had no other option. Killing him now meant zero chance of getting the Sluggers off. Waiting to kill him meant a non-zero chance.
"Tomorrow", Sohmak promised.
As morning sunlight flooded the streets of Irnakk's Tooth, a hacked off prize-fighter pounded on a workshop door.
"Syntak! SYNTAK, YOU ROTTER!" His patience long since depleted, he threw a heavy metal fist through the door, smashing it to splinters.
The workshop was derelict, every sign of the scrap-tinker geek having vanished with him as he fled into the night.
And so Sohmak found himself here. In self-exile from Irnakk's Tooth in a desperate bid to preserve his reputation, trudging across the island for days and nights and sustaining himself on fruits and Miracle Cactus crushed in and summarily licked from the Sluggers' metallic maw, and finally paddling pathetically between the river deltas of the Spineless Bay in a leaky boat.
He looked ahead, at his wit's end, and there in the distance stood a veritable fortress. A literal fortress, in fact.
No one so weak and snivelling as that scrapper could ever dream of having a fortress. Only the strong could take, could make, such a proud stronghold.
Worth a shot.
He paddled a little faster.
OOC: @Snelly @Nato The Whisperer @Sparticus147 @Smudge8 and anyone else who's involved with Razorfish;Vaa, closing in.