11 Oct, ’20

First Snow

by Cal

It was snowing.

Leo stood at the edge of the shattered ruins of what had once been a small town and considered the snow. He always intended to be back at the Ranch before the first snows started falling, but some years he didn't make it. This year looked like it would be one of those.

The snow, meanwhile, was moving in quickly from the southwest. He was headed northwest. And he'd hoped to stay out the storm at what had been, the last time he'd passed through, a small but determined settlement of survivors.

The soundtrack for this part would probably be silent, Leo mused as he walked slowly through the wreckage. Abrupt silence as the scene cut to the ruins, then a slow pan following him through with nothing but the crunch of gravel under his feet. He should come across some small child's toy for the full impact, like in Mulan - but the audience could have their heartstrings pulled without him, this time. He had a snowstorm to prepare for.

Some of the buildings were still standing enough to offer shelter from the snow, but Leo wasn't sure he wanted to stay. It just felt...

"Something's not right," he muttered to himself. Something about the way the wreckage lay, something about the kind of damage... the lack of bodies...

On cue, a small tremor vibrated the ground below his feet and he froze. Not good. As quickly and lightly as he could, he darted across the road, up a pile of rubble and leapt onto the roof of what had once been a convenience store, and more recently a haphazard market. And now, more importantly, the tallest climbable structure in quick distance.

Whatever had taken out this town was obviously still around - and while more height meant further to fall, yeah, if it was above ground, he could see it coming. And, if it wasn't, it had further to go to get to him.

The wind whipped icy crystals of snow at him, threatening to push back the hood of his cloak, as he scanned a three-sixty of the horizon. The distant whiteness still loomed to the southwest, and to the other directions was... nothing. Dune-like hills, scrubby bushes, open plains.

Another vibration, this time shaking loose small bits of debris and sending them rattling and bouncing to the ground. Leo put a hand on his sword and held perfectly still. It was the smart thing to do - an underground creature would sense him by his footsteps, so if he held still, maybe it would decide it was a false alarm. But of course that wasn't going to happen - it wasn't exciting enough - so he waited, poised to attack, with a Working at the ready.


The rubble across the street exploded upwards, rocks and debris raining down in a ring around... a sand worm? No, couldn't be, this wasn't a desert, but it looked a hell of a lot like a sandworm. Big round horrifying mouth thing at the end of a tube-like, armor-plated... creature. Leo murmured an idu panida, just to be sure, and the rubble pile two buildings down the road erupted upwards as a second worm - wurm, he thought, they deserved the fancy spelling with all that armor - blasted upwards.

"Two against one? That doesn't seem fair," he muttered to himself, and on cue, two more wurms burst out of the rubble. "Ah, that's better."

Leo grinned sharply as the first wurm spit a glob of something absolutely disgusting and probably caustic towards the building Leo was standing on. He dodged backwards, lightly, and watched as the goop hissed and bubbled, steam billowing upwards only to be blown away by the snowy gusts.

“All right, you bastards.” He cast a quick glance around, assessing the wurms’ positions. “Let’s dance.”

Leo darted off across the ruined town, traversing the shattered rubble in a series of leaps and vaults that would have made a pre-War parkourser envious. Landing on the remnants of a porch roof, he ducked as one of the wurms spat more acid gloop. It splatted against the armor of the first wurm, hissing ineffectually against its plates.

One strategy down.

Drawing his sword in a quick forward lunge, he slashed hard against the stained chitin. The blade didn’t even leave a scratch, but that was all he took the time to notice before launching off the creature and landing on another half-collapsed building across the street. Another leap as more acid flew towards him, swinging one-handed up a half-level with his sword still drawn.

His opponents might be heavily armored, and the armor might be impenetrable by an ordinary metal blade, but the creatures were wurms. Hoping for an implausibly convenient weak point like Smaug’s underbelly was a stretch, but a snake-shaped creature with inflexible armor needed some way to be able to bend - and in his experience, those gaps and overlays were the real weak points. If he angled things just right, with enough force...

More globs of smelly acid were launched his way, prompting him to keep moving. Picking out a path was getting harder – not only were the wurms themselves knocking more of the remaining structures over, but dodging the acid himself didn’t stop it from eating away at the wood and concrete.

At least they don’t move around much.

The wurms didn’t seem able to move above ground at all, staying in the same places they’d breached. If they went back underground it might be a different story, but so far they hadn’t, relying on their corrosive vomit to slow their prey. Like those fish that shoot bugs out of the air with water jets - except bigger, smellier, and a lot harder to walk on.

If he didn’t get this wrapped up soon, he was going to run out of safe ground.

Leo dove under another disgusting projectile, turning directly towards the source and racing full speed across the ruins. With a final leap to cross the gap, he stabbed his sword forwards and upwards, aiming to wedge the blade in the gap between plates.

It screamed, a deep roaring vibration that hurt Leo’s ears and shook the ground. Leo yanked his sword back out and leapt again, landing on something that was no longer recognizable as a building and nearly stumbling as the rubble shifted beneath his feet.

Leo shifted his grip on the sword as the injured one writhed backwards, oozing goop from the gap in its armor plating. These wurms were tough. At this rate, defeating four of them - he ducked and rolled as another glob of acid spit flew at him - would take forever.

Shit. From the sizzling and sudden warmth, he hadn't dodged that one well enough. He quickly rattled off a Working to Destroy the acid - panida to the rescue again - before it could burn through his clothes, and reached back to feel the damage.

His cloak had taken most of the damage, the holes letting in the frigid wind, but any concerns about clothing vanished as said wind blew his hair into his face.

His hair which had, only moments before, been at least three times longer.

Leo spun around to face the offending wurm. "You slimy bastard," he snarled. "You melted my hair!"

The wurm hissed back.

Play time's over. Leo darted to the side, leaping from one heap of rubble to another as he rattled off another Working at the wurm – this one to get a mental map of the creature's nervous system. A lot like an earthworm - no surprise there.

Turning sharply to dodge another glob of disgusting acide, he quickly surveyed the remaining structures and, making a decision, jumped to the next building and planted his feet. This was the spot; good view for the cameras, relatively solid footing. This is where he would destroy these stupid wurms who had ruined not just his clothing, but his hair.

Wield sword, pose. Leofric grinned sharply. And show time. “You know... there's a reason I'm called Lightning-Blade.” He focused his power, channelling a dozen amps directly into the nearest wurm's nerve centers, with some extra ionization around it for the effect.

It didn't even have time to scream, writhing wildly as lightning raced up and down its armor before collapsing into a twitching, lifeless heap.

Leo added a few arcs of electricity sparking off the blade of his sword, to finish off the shot. “All right, who's next?”

One of the three remaining wurms screeched, volunteering itself, and he slashed his sword through the air towards it as he poured more electricity directly into what passed for its brain, making sure to put in enough extra power around it for the visuals.

“Two down.” More acid globs flew towards him – but he'd already settled on his final position, so he sang out a Shape Air working instead of dodging, deflecting them to either side. Like a ship through the water. Amused by the visual, his grin widened - and with a flourish of his blade, he blasted the one to his left with the same treatment, letting himself add on a full arc between his weapon and the monster.

As he turned to the fourth and final wurm, right on cue, the wind gusted around him again, blowing icy crystals through his dramatically shortened hair and whipping his cloak around him. The fourth wurm finally sensed the danger it was in and started to retreat, pulling quickly back beneath the ground.

“I don't think so,” Leo snarled, and snapped his blade down through the air, turning all of his annoyance on the last remaining creature.

Lightning exploded around it with a crack, killing it instantly - and with enough drama for the episode's finishing blow. The wind flung the scent of charred flesh into Leo's face and past, along with the rapidly intensifying snow.

Leo turned his gaze to the southwest, to the rapidly advancing storm, and sighed in resignation. He always intended to be back at the Ranch before the first snows started falling... but some years, he didn't make it.