Tough as Blades

The pain…

The pain of losing…

The pain of losing was unbearable…

Not to mention the pain of claws smashing together.

Six thin, pointed legs walked up a stairway onto an arena. He waved two claws half the size of his body to the crowd. The red crawber responded to shouts of affection with shouts of joy from his pointy mouth, his beady eyes watching his adoring fans.

This was Crawmaster, the star pupil of the Interpolis dojo. Crawmaster’s strength was, well, his brute strength. He could smash anyone out of the fighting arena, and very few could make him budge. Twice the height of anyone there, he was four times a normal crawber’s size. But at the dojo he wasn’t a monstrous freak; he was a hero, someone that everyone looked up to.

His challenger today was a slube from another island. He had been told that it would be an easy victory. The sluggy slube made her way onto the arena, pushing her thin, yellow body with her tail.

The fight began. Crawmaster immediately swung a claw bigger than the slube down onto her. He thought that ended it.

Out of nowhere the slube jumped at Crawmaster. She punched his face with the rapidity of a machine gun. Pain wracked his face, and he released a great bellow; when the onslaught ended, he held his face with his claws.

Crawmaster then heard a voice… a voice like honey, trying to comfort him… apologizing for the pain…

But when Crawmaster moved his claws away to look, he saw only the slube, grown to tower over him. Her eyes were a dark red, her body a shadow that covered the world with darkness. Crawmaster screamed; the slube slammed her tail into him. He crashed through the wall and fell into a dark world where his body disintegrated into pieces until-

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Crawmaster screamed, awaking on his platform bed.

***

The next morning, Crawmaster stood on the arena again. Now there was no cheering crowd; only a few were even watching. He faced off against a floggle, a frog with appendages twice as long as its body. This was Frishu, the second-best pupil at the dojo.

At least, that was the case before Crawmaster was defeated. Now, as he tried to slam his giant claws into Frishu, his opponent easily dodged each strike; when he had an opening he kicked Crawmaster head-on. The giant crawber screamed and tumbled out of the arena.

“Is that really it?” Frishu asked, straightening his white robe.

The owner of the dojo was a rectangular cucumber-like creature with appendages thin as noodles. This thyvae had a short, thin mustache and wore a white robe with green, ruffled edges. Master Hydra, they called him; he sighed and walked over to Crawmaster. “Come now, Crawmaster. There once was a time you could defeat even Frishu with ease.”

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I miss being smashed into the wall, but you can do better than that,” Frishu said. “I should know; I’ve been on the business end of it.”

Crawmaster stood up, mumbling incoherently in his usually-incoherent roar of a voice. He walked away with his head down (or at least as down as one whose head and body are pretty much the same can have it).

Master Hydra shook his head. “I do not know what I will do with him. Ever since his defeat at the tail of Miss Cherry, he has lost all talent, all will, all… everything.”

“Losing a perfect track record like that must’ve been hard on him,” Frishu said. “Before that, I didn’t even know he had a psyche. Now it seems… broken.”

“Yes… we must find some way to get Crawmaster’s spirit back, for only then can he once more-”

A crash interrupted Master Hydra as something charged into the dojo. It tore through the drywall and wooden furniture like they were cloth. Shrapnel and dust flew everywhere. Finally it crashed into Crawmaster and careened off him onto the floor.

“What was that?” Frishu asked. The students crept closer to the object; it was a saw blade. Everyone jumped as it righted itself onto its side and rose into the air. What looked like big, red eyes appeared on one side.

“What is that?”

“A saw blade?”

“It’s looking at us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous; it can’t have eyes.”

“Oh, can’t I?” Sawn asked. Everyone stepped back and stared. The saw blade talked! Was it alive? What did it want?

Master Hydra stepped towards Sawn. “Greetings, strange one. I am Master Hydra, owner of this dojo. What is it that brings you here?”

“The drywall! The wood!” Sawn said. “I’ve been flying around this crummy city looking for something to do, but you know what I find? Metal! Brick! All these buildings are made of stuff I can’t do a thing to! But this place…”

Sawn suddenly flew back in a spin. It tore straight through the fighting arena, cleaving it in two. Most everyone stumbled back.

Master Hydra ran after Sawn and stopped in front of it. “I know not what magic caused you to come into being, but I must insist that you leave this dojo.”

“Make me,” Sawn said. “One hi-ya outta you and you’ll be half off.”

“You underestimate us. My students and I shall force you out.”

“By the time you try, I’ll bring this place to the ground!” Sawn said.

“Wait, wait, hold it!” said an ostrich, shambling over between them with wings outstretched. “We can’t just start going all out fighting each other like some video game! We gotta do it right!”

“What are you talking about?” Sawn asked.

“Everyone knows that in order to defend our dojo, orphanage, ice cream shoppe, et cetera, we must be given time to prepare and raise money, fight, or otherwise have a chance to save our institution. In the case of a dojo, one of the dojo students fights one-on-one against the bad guy. It’s how all after-school specials work.”

Sawn stared at them. It stared at them entirely too long, as if it simply couldn’t believe what it had heard. (I can’t believe it either: exactly how does it hear?)

Finally, “All right, fine,” Sawn said.  “I’ll be back tomorrow to turn this place into my own playground.”

“Hmm… tomorrow is no good. I have an important meeting to be at. What about in four days?”

“I’m off this rock and heading to another then. What about the day after tomorrow?”

“No good. My daughter’s class is going on a field trip, and I offered to chaperone.”

“Well, can’t you cancel or something!?”

“What about in three days?” the ostrich suggested.

“Fine, fine, in three days I’ll return to turn this place into lumber. Got it?”

“You may return then, but you will be on the side of defeat,” Master Hydra said.

“No, you will!” Sawn said. It flew out before it lost the last word, smashing through the outer wall again.

“Gil,” Master Hydra said to the ostrich, “gather everyone. Tell them to come to the meeting room immediately.”

***

Every student in Master Hydra’s dojo—nearly twenty in all—gathered in a bare room big enough to be a private auditorium. Master Hydra stood on a platform at the front, while Frishu stood next to him, both watching the students.

Master Hydra called for attention. “As most of you know, this dojo was recently attacked by what appeared to be a living saw blade. We are now being threatened with the total destruction of our dojo unless we defeat it in a one-on-one fight. Therefore, one of you must defend this dojo; you must hold the future of it in your abilities.” He turned to Frishu and said his name.

“What?” Frishu asked.

“As one of my top students, I believe this task should be set upon you.”

“What are you, crazy? My limbs’ll get hacked right off!” Frishu immediately bowed. “Uh, n-no disrespect, master.”

“Very well… Spencer. You shall go and defend our dojo.”

“Um, my apologies, master,” the tan camel-like smarmel said, leaning against the wall with the stiff hump on his back, “but I must… be somewhere… on that day.” He scratched his eyelids, ever-closed like all smarmel.

“Is anyone going to fight this blade, or must we allow it to demolish our dojo?”

The students began to mutter excuses, though most of them just admitted that they were uneasy about fighting an opponent that could slice them into lunch meat.

“Do I gotta spell out everything for you guys?” Gil said. “Send Crawmaster! That blade careened off him like nothing!”

Everyone looked at Crawmaster. He was sitting in the corner. “Crawmaster,” said Master Hydra, walking to him.

“NO!” Crawmaster cried.

“Crawmaster, my son!” Master Hydra shouted, grabbing the big lug.

“I’M YOUR SON?” Crawmaster asked.

“No, it’s a term of endearment. Listen to me; you have been defeated, yes, but that is no reason to lose your spirit, lose your will, your nerve, your talent! You cannot give up after a single loss. Aspiring for a perfect record is noble, but it is also absolutely impractical. But this fight… this fight you can win, you must win. And I will retrain you until you are once more at the top!”

Crawmaster thought for a moment. (At least, I think he can think.) Finally, he lifted his claws into the air and gave a great shout. “GOOOOOOO!”

“Goal!” Gil added, lifting his wings into the air.

“Yes,” Master Hydra said. “It is time, Crawmaster, for your training to begin anew.”

***

Crawmaster stood on the fighting arena in the dojo. Across from him, Master Hydra watched.

“We shall begin by seeing where it is you must focus, Crawmaster. Come at me with your best shot.”

Crawmaster nodded and shouted a battle cry, charging at Master Hydra. The arena buckled and collapsed under his weight, still sliced in half. Crawmaster crashed to the floor underneath, covered in shrapnel and dust.

Master Hydra coughed. “It seems we have much to work on.”

“Yeah, like this arena,” Frishu said.

After moving to a backup arena, Master Hydra pitted Crawmaster against his worst student, a smarmel named Sweak.

“Now then, Crawmaster,” said Master Hydra, “you must start from the bottom before you return to the top. As Sweak is the bottom, you must first fight him. Go!”

Sweak yelled and charged forward. Crawmaster held out the end of his claw against Sweak’s head to keep him away. Sweak still charged, flailing his fists, though he gained no ground.

After a minute nothing had changed. Finally, Crawmaster shouted and slammed his claw onto the floor; the great thud caused Sweak to shriek, jump up, and cling onto Crawmaster’s head. Crawmaster screamed and flailed his claws. He stumbled back and with a great rumble fell off the arena, Sweak on top of him.

Silence filled the room. Sweak looked around. “What just happened?”

Crawmaster!” shouted Master Hydra. “You cannot allow yourself to lose control at the slightest touch like a housewife covered in ants! You must learn to control yourself, to swiftly flick each ant off you.”

“Are you calling me an ant?” Sweak asked.

In the next fight, Crawmaster retained his composure and knocked Sweak out of the arena. It was still a personal best for Sweak, though: a one-win streak.

Crawmaster still wasn’t at his best, however. As he fought stronger students, he was dealt more defeats. His fighting improved, though; eventually his spirit returned, he regained his talent, and his victories increased.

Finally, Crawmaster’s confidence came back. Upon beating Spencer he shouted to the ceiling, “I’M GONNA MAKE IT AFTER AAAAAALL!”

“You are not done yet, Crawmaster,” said Master Hydra. “Frishu.”

“Huh?” Frishu asked, licking an ice cream cone.

“It is time for you to fight Crawmaster once again.”

“Ah, so the King of Claw is back? All right, let’s do it.”

Frishu and Crawmaster faced each other in the arena and they each bowed.

Crawmaster thrust out his claws at Frishu. It was like trying to smack a rodent with a steel beam. Frishu hopped side-to-side to avoid the claws.

Frishu found an opening and landed a kick on Crawmaster’s face. Crawmaster stood his ground and slammed Frishu down with his claw. Frishu crouched under it and then sprang up, pushing the claw into Crawmaster’s face. He stumbled back and lost his balance; with a scream he fell out of the arena.

Frishu had won.

Crawmaster bellowed and sobbed like a giant who had stubbed his toe. He ran to the corner, thinking once more he had lost his touch.

“CRAWMASTER!” Master Hydra shouted. “You cannot let one single defeat engulf you again!”

Crawmaster turned to look at his teacher. “Down the road of life,” Master Hydra continued, “there are rises, and there are dips. The rises take time to ascend up, while the dips are sudden and rapid. But, if you learn from the dips, you can use the speed of these dips to ascend a rise—but this is only if you learn from your mistakes.”

Master Hydra pointed to the arena. “You will fight Frishu again. With every defeat, learn from it to gain momentum for your eventual victory.”

“I’VE GOT IT,” Crawmaster said, claws up, and returned to the arena for a second fight. Crawmaster lost again. This time, though, he didn’t break down; he came back for more. More losing. But finally, in their fourth fight, Crawmaster slammed Frishu head-first into the wall like in the old days.

“Congratulations, Crawmaster,” said Master Hydra, “you have won.”

“BRING ON THE CONSTRUCTION TOOL!”

“Not yet,” Master Hydra said, “your training is not yet done. One victory is all you have; you must fight Frishu again and again continuously until we are sure that you are ready.”

Frishu pushed his head out of the wall. “WHAT!?”

Frishu would end up back in the wall many more times. Although he won some fights, Crawmaster won with increasing frequency. Soon the tally between them was of a ratio like that of their body sizes: Crawmaster was winning in a big way.

***

On the day of the fight with Sawn, Crawmaster sparred with Frishu one more time in preparation. It ended with Crawmaster slamming his claw into Frishu with such force that Frishu’s head smashed through the outer wall.

Frishu groaned. He the screamed—a pointy blade of death was flying right at him. He tried to wiggle out of the wall, to no avail. Sawn flew through the wall just inches away from him.

“Okay, I’ve waited long enough,” Sawn said. “Time to start some destruction!”

“You will do no such thing,” Master Hydra said. “We have a challenger for you.”

“Oh, right, that crap. All right, who do I fight?”

Master Hydra led Sawn to an empty arena. “To make this dojo your own, you must defeat my star pupil,” he said. “Crawmaster!” With a quaking thud, Crawmaster jumped onto the arena, four times Sawn’s height.

“THIS DOJO IS MY HOME!” Crawmaster screamed.

Sawn stared at him for a few moments. “… Wow, you’re big. Hey, you weren’t hit with that Gene Splicer a few months ago, were you?”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT,” Crawmaster said.

“Ah, never mind, then. Let’s just get to the crab-cutting.”

Sawn flew at Crawmaster and spun against him as if he was a log. For all its sharpness, though, it couldn’t carve through Crawmaster’s thick shell.

Crawmaster grabbed Sawn with his claw and stopped its spinning. “Uh… this isn’t supposed to happen,” Sawn said, the claw bigger than it. Crawmaster hurled Sawn forward. It boomeranged back around, and Crawmaster slammed it down onto the arena. It shuddered like a flipped coin.

“Is that it?” Frishu asked. Sawn lied on the arena floor facedown, evenly flat. It looked knocked out.

Then it moved, sliding underneath Crawmaster.

“Crawmaster! Look out!” shouted Master Hydra. Sawn flipped up like a trapdoor; Crawmaster was thrown off his balance backwards.

“NOOOOOO!” Crawmaster roared, flailing his claws forward. He dug his claws into the arena and pulled himself back onto stable footing.

“When I’m through with you, you’re gonna be crab cakes!” Sawn shouted. It dashed straight for Crawmaster’s eyes. He grabbed it in a claw inches before it hit.

“YOU’RE NOT WELCOME!” Crawmaster roared, and he hurled Sawn out of the arena like a discus. It was planted firmly into the wall.

“Crawmaster, the winner!” Master Hydra proclaimed. All the students rushed to Crawmaster with congratulations.

“If he were to lose to Cherry again, do you suspect he would fall back into depression?” Frishu asked.

“I think not,” said Master Hydra. “I believe he has learned a lesson not to give in.”

“I’ve learned that too!” Sawn shouted, garnering everyone’s attention, “so I’m not gonna let this stupid fight stop me from making this place a splinter hazard!”

Sawn flew down to saw through the wooden floor again. Crawmaster rushed at it with a shout and slammed it with his claw. Sawn crashed through the wall and shot screaming out of the dojo.

“Congratulations, my pupil,” said Master Hydra, bowing to him; Crawmaster did the same. He then turned to the students.

“NEVER AGAIN WILL WE SUFFER UNDER THE THREATENING SPIKES OF THAT BUZZSAW,” he roared. “OUR DOJO SHALL REMAIN OURS, IT SHALL LIVE ON, AND IT SHALL BE A BEACON OF LIGHT FOR ALL THOSE WHO WISH TO STUDY THE MARTIAL ARTS.”

That it shall. I’m going to go sit in a quiet room for a while now.

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  1. Tough as Blades: First (fully-public) Short Story! | Duth Olec's Cuckoo Cosmos

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