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Your footwork is ATROCIOUS
Day 6 (Steve)
Dungeons and Dragons-Forgotten Realms

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#1
The wound in his shoulder should have healed up in a matter of hours, but the thin magic on this world kept even his regeneration ring from working normally. It had taken a few days, but now, finally, he was doing well enough, and doing well enough meant that he had to test himself out. How would he do that? Well, one method had come to mind above all others.

During the brief melee they'd encountered on the road, Arjay had been given reason to reflect on the fact that Steve was, by all respects, an admirable battle companion. When Arjay had jumped into action to slay the vehicle that was pursuing them, Steve had (some might say in a move to steal his thunder) been right behind him, attacking those inside the car. However, it didn't escape Arjay's notice that, while armed with a weapon that offered so many ways to dispatch their enemies, the man resorted to crude brawling and bludgeoning. THis, naturally, wouldn't do.

This was why the men found themselves hiking to a reasonably secluded nearby woods, Arjay's swords and Steve's shield and rod in a pack that the elf carried over his shoulder. "The rules are simple," the elf said as they found themselves secluded among the trees. "Disarm me, beat me down, run me through, I really don't care how you do it, but you're going to use the rod in one of its forms, one of its forms that's meant to be a weapon, and not the shield to do it. Consider it an exercise in versatility." The elf drew the singing sword out, foregoing the holy sword for now, spinning the blade to the ready. "Gods, it feels good to be able to move this arm again. Give me an excuse to move it quite a lot now."
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#2
“Language!”

Luckily for Steve, the fire hadn’t done any real damage. Not physically, anyway, and even if it had, his healing wasn’t based on magic, but science, and science seemed to be alive and healthy here. It wasn’t quite the world that Steve knew and recognized, but it was close enough to it that the serum still seemed to be working just fine.

He’d separated away from the group a bit once they’d gotten to the hotel, in part because he needed to wrangle with the memory of the agony his mind had told him he’d been feeling, and in part because he had needed to come to terms with the fact that if magic could go sideways in a world, then it was possible that there was a world (probably more than one) in which the serum would not work, too. And that was unsettling in a different sort of way. Steve didn’t miss being small, not really. He had a body now that he could rely on, that didn’t get sick. That wouldn’t fall over with a stiff breeze. He didn’t miss the asthma attacks, the way a bruise took days, sometimes even a week, to fade, being sick all of the time… And it was frightening to think that he could have walked into this strong, and left sickly and frail. That he could have become a liability to his teammates here instead of an asset. That he could have hindered the quest. This was taking him longer to come to terms with than the fire; Steve had become accustomed to being one of the strong, and losing that…

The knock on the door was a good excuse to turn his mind away from the darker thoughts of ‘what if’ for the moment, and Steve took it gratefully. When Arjay had offered him a friendly spar, Steve had taken it; the elf was one hell of a fighter, with or without his magic, and Steve was always glad to stretch his muscles and learn something new.

Being instructed not to use his shield, though… Steve frowned thoughtfully at the weapon he was allowed. ‘Meant to be a weapon’ Arjay had said, and Steve knew what he meant, but… He preferred…

Preferences hadn’t kept him from learning how to shoot a gun, or using it when the moment required it. As Arjay had said, it was an exercise in versatility, and Steve wasn’t so overconfident that he didn’t know that he couldn’t afford not to learn something when the opportunity presented itself. “Alright.” Of all the possible forms that the rod could assume, Steve had always preferred the battering ram; it was useful, and versatile, but that wasn’t the point of this exercise. This was meant to take Steve out of his comfort zone. His next favorite was by far the mace, but again, Steve knew that comfort was supposed to be left behind. He sighed, then pressed the second button on the haft of the mace, shifting it into one of it’s bladed forms, two crescents folding out oif the weapon as a shifted his grip on it. The shield he left; it would be too tempting to simply use that, which was against the rules that Arjay was setting out. “I’m not interested in hurting you, Arjay…” Steve knew his strength could be dangerous; he was always careful with it. His elven friend was just now coming back from a pretty nasty injury; sure he had healed faster than most would have, but without his magic, Steve worried about hurting him. To be fair, Steve would have worried about hurting his friend even with magic there to heal him right back up.

That didn’t keep Steve from going on the offensive, though. Arjay wanted an excuse to move his shoulder, to work out the kinks and enjoy being whole, and Steve would give it to him.

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#3
And that, that warning, summed Arjay’s friend up quite succinctly. He didn’t want to hurt him… ah, these humans… “I’m rather glad you aren’t interested in that, because being interested in things outside your capability is quite a frustrating prospect,” Arjay countered, giving the tip of his sword a little taunting wiggle.

People’s choices were telling, and their choices of weapon told much about how they would fight. A battle axe, after all, was largely an instrument of brute force. It was also, however, a very calculated weapon. When you swung the blade, you were committing yourself to that strike, given the momentum of the swing and your relative inability to stop the swing or feint with it. Of anyone that Arjay knew, thought, Steve was probably the one best capable of making those calculated strikes and being able to recover from a bad swing. Arjay countered by being more maneuverable, turning the strikes aside just enough to miss his sidestepped location, moving around to force Steve to take wider turns, all things that would tire a normal opponent out… but Steve wasn’t a normal opponent, now, was he?

“Remember,” Arjay said, after parrying a third blow, “You don’t hold a collection of weapons in your possession, you hold one weapon with many functions. You have a versatility that many people would be unable to match.” He spun aside, feeling the whoosh of the axe swishing past him, sure that he’d lost a few hairs under the keen edge of the blade. He continued the spin, batting Steve across the back of the calf with the flat of his blade and then doing a practiced little hop, born from countless spars with infuriated dwarves, that dropped his foot right onto the haft of the axe where it met the head, burying it a bit more securely into the dirt. “Have you tested how quickly you can make it change forms? What happens if you change mid-swing? The ideal weapon can change moment to moment.”
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#4
“Language!”

Many people might have let the cutting remark from his elven friend get to them. Steve did not. There were a lot of things that the elf was; competent being high on that list, but also apparently arrogant was included. Steve knew that Arjay was more accomplished with his sword than Steve was with… Pretty much anything aside from the shield. His fingers itched for the familiar feel of the vibranium weapon (and it was a weapon just as much as it was a shield), but he understood why Arjay wanted him to stay away from his weapon of choice. He could already wield it effectively, and they both knew it. This was supposed to be a learning experience. “I’m not claiming that I’m going to do so with skill, Arjay… But even so..” he sighed, he just had to trust his friend’s skill in this case, and he wasn’t finding it to be the easiest thing.

It became apparent that Steve had researched the weapons that the rod gave him access to, and had worked with each one of them, taking the time to figure out how each weapon worked. Because of his great strength, a lot of people assumed that Steve would be slow and heavy handed; this was incorrect. While Steve wasn’t as lithe or agile as his sparring partner, he was far more dextrous and quick on his feet than the force behind his swings would seem to indicate. He moved with a certain amount of fluidity, and changed tactics on the fly; his shield, light yet strong, was the perfect balance for him, but Steve made do with the battleaxe. Instead of forcing the axe to move with him, Steve used the weight of the weapon as a counterbalance, moving with the axe, turning himself and bringing the momentum of his movements around to put behind the weapon, using the inertia to fuel his next swing. It would take a long time to tire Steve out, Arjay was right in that assumption.

Perhaps most surprising was the fact that while Steve wasn’t joyous in a fight, it did serve to ease the tension from his shoulders and back; he was more relaxed sparring against his friend than he could ever have been sitting in his room, waiting for the repairs to be finished so they could move on. He was still working through the events of the battle, or rather, making peace with his experience during it, but Steve was back to feeling the relief of fighting now that they were in the middle of it. Steve hadn’t been able to spar with anyone save Tadashi since arriving in Hub, and really, that was just fine because Tad was a great sparring partner, with the added benefit of being completely safe from harm no matter how hard Steve swang or hit. Tad might very well be the one person that Steve was totally comfortable just letting loose on.

Arjay’s words didn’t fall on deaf ears. Steve hadn’t really considered that once in combat he could continue to change the rod’s form. He had not, actually, tested to see how quickly the rod could change form. Now, in the middle of a spar with a friend that could be trusted could be just the right time to find out. Steve had plenty of practice with the weapon and knew which button did what. With the head of the axe buried in the dirt, Steve gave Arjay an amused grin before he hit a button and swang the staff the weapon became to sweep under Arjay’s feet before pressing another button change it back into the axe. He purposefully didn’t change the weapon into a battering ram; that was against the rules that Arjay had set at the start of this exercise, after all. “You’re absolutely right. Though mid-swing seems like it would throw me off balance as often as it helps me.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#5
Well well. Steve was the best sort of pupil (and in this case, working with a weapon that he wasn’t familiar with but Arjay reasonably was, the title plausibly fit): One that didn’t question what you were saying, but tried it. The axe was freed much more easily than if he’d had to wrench it free of the ground, which meant that the elf didn’t have any time to catch his breath. This was excellent. Oh, the elf knew that his rules were holding Steve back, that was very true. One day, he was going to have to tell the man to come at him with just his shield and see Steve really in his element, but he’d just recovered from a shoulder injury. He didn’t need to get hurt again so quickly, now, did he?

“Oh ho, but that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. Unbalancing is something you only have to worry about if you don’t know the effect. Try it! You have the element of changability on your side. Those of my world may know what to expect from that weapon, or some of them will, but to anyone else? They won’t know what will come next, and that can stop a fight on its own. I’ve held off foes that I knew quite well could kill me, simply because they didn’t know what magic I’d be able to pull out next!” He caught a swing of the axe on the blade of his sword, his left forearm bracing the flat of the sword to try to halt the blow, but instead bouncing off of it a few feet as Steve’s superior strength overcame his effort. Well, I suppose we’re both learning today…

While he was staggered and his friend too polite to take advantage of the moment and hurt him, Arjay halted the fight. “Give it to me a moment,” he said, not really doubting that the other man would. He took the collapsed rod into his hand, twirled it for a moment to reacquaint himself with the weight. “Learn the way the weight shifts, and learn to use it. This object keeps its momentum even as its weight increases, and adds its own.” To demonstrate, Arjay lunged forward toward a tree stump, thrusting the rod out before him. Mid-thrust, he pressed the third button, causing the rod to transform into a spear, its length springing out before him, driving it clean through the stump with the combined speed of its transformation and Arjay’s own vicious stab.

He left it sticking out of the stump for Steve to reclaim. “Do you know if its more magical qualities work here? Have you tried to make it paralyze anyone yet?” Granted, he had to admit that those possessed things they’d fought weren’t the best candidates for that experiment, now, were they?
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Marvel-MCU

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#6
“Language!”

Steve certainly tried to be the best student he could be. And what it boiled down to was the fact that he trusted Arjay. They had gone into battle together, first against orcs, and then again with the rest of the group against the men who refused to die until the bitterest ends. And in between, they had talked and shared meals and Arjay had come to help Tony. So Steve trusted Arjay. With his life in battle, and with teaching him to better use the weapon that the elf himself had given him.

When Arjay suggested toying with the idea of changing the rod’s form mid-battle, Steve did precisely that, and he was amused with the outcome. Removing the staff from the ground was far easier than it would have been to work the axe’s head out of it, and then he had the option to try to take Arjay off of his feet, too. Even knowing what the rod was able to do, Arjay couldn’t always predict which form Steve would have it take next, or when, and that… That was one hell of an advantage. He made the decision to start working with the rod regularly, just as he did his shield, not as a backup, but as an additional tool in his arsenal. He could learn how each weapon swung, the weight of each, how they shifted when he pushed the buttons from one to another… And it wasn’t as though he didn’t have the time to make those discoveries…

Steve was careful with his strength. Always. He wasn’t looking to crush Arjay, but to spar with the elf, who might have mostly recovered, but had been down for long enough that he didn’t need to strain himself over much. The halt to the spar was a surprise, but Steve relaxed immediately, and when his friend asked for the weapon to look at, Steve handed it over easily enough. After all, the rod had been Arjay’s, the elf had just been nice enough to give it to Steve so he wouldn’t be weaponless. Nodding, Steve agreed with Arjay’s advice, ”Oh, I will. It’ll take time for me to learn all of the little things, the ways the weight shifts from one form to another, how each change affects a swing and momentum… But I’ll learn it, Arjay. And more than that, I’ll use it.” Because there wasn’t a point in knowing something if you weren’t going to put it to use in some way or another. When they’d given him the serum and then plopped him on his ass to do nothing, he’d fought that. The USO tours were better than doing nothing but being tested over and over again. And when he’d had the option to do something even more than the USO, he had leapt at the chance and jumped into action. And he hadn’t stopped. He had been halted by the ice for 70 years, but upon waking up he’d become an Avenger, and since then…

He missed being an Avenger. Missed doing things. The quest was helping. He felt useful again. He had direction. But it was different. He missed Tony. He missed Tadashi and Friday.

”I haven’t tried. And I’m not going to use those abilities on you, Arjay. But our next fight, if I get a chance, I’ll see if they work. If nothing else, if I get hurt, the healing one might help me, if not hinder them so much.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#7
“There’s probably little point to using those abilities here anyway,” Arjay admitted, a bit reluctantly. He didn’t particularly like admitting that he’d just spit out a useless idea, but there it was. “Even if they do work, there’s a reasonable chance that whatever is empowering those ‘people’ we fought would help them resist them. All the same… now’s the time to test things instead of in battle when the failure could be costly.”

He readied his sword again, waiting for Steve to have his weapon at the ready before he launched an attack, boosting off of the stump in a running jump to come at him high and from the side. “This is the first world I’ve been on where my magic has failed me… I can’t wait to be done with this,” Arjay admitted. “I don’t even know what would happen to me if I died here so far from my goddess, and I would rather leave that a mystery.” Some things, he’d found, were easier to voice when you had a sword in your hand. Perhaps it was the fact that your opponent could expect a vicious physical response if they mocked them? He supposed that made sense. Not that he expected Steve to do anything so rude as that, but habits were habits.

The truth was, his failure to be able to cast any of the magic that relied on a divine aspect gnawed at the back of his mind. Oh, he knew the reason was the world, and not him. He’d had that vision before he’d come here, hadn’t he? He could still feel that approving, loving presence in his sword, couldn’t he? It didn’t stop that absence of goddess-granted power from bothering him, though. It had nothing to do with confidence in his abilities. His swords would be enough to see him through this quest, but as a man who’d communed with divine beings, this world where the divine was held back was unsettling. Honestly, he had no idea how the humans here stood it. How could you know what your gods wished if they were cut off from you?
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#8
“Language!”

"Maybe. But it could take them by surprise, too." Even if a paralysis only worked for a moment, it could save a teammate or buy enough time to put one of them down permanently. And really, it cost Steve nothing to try it once if he found an opportunity in battle as long as it was a clear and clean shot.

"You have a good point." He didn't like using the rod's abilities on his friend, but the paralysis wouldn't last long, and it would be beneficial to know.

Arjay fighting without his magic made Steve think about being without his shield. When the elf had met the super soldier, Steve had been weaponless, wandering with only his strength to carry him through battle. The elf had quite kindly given him the rod to keep, and Steve always had it with him.. But before he'd left on this quest, Steve had asked Tony if he could take the shield. Steve purposely did not wonder if Tony would want it back when Steve returned to Hub. But he knew, if Tony wanted it, slave would relinquish it. "I wouldn't leave you behind here. Arjay. If you fall in this world, or any other at my side, I will bring you home, to your world." Steve defended against Arjay's attack before pushing back, using his strength, but also his tactical skill, to his advantage, but Arjay had no need to worry about Steve teasing him. That was a bit out of character for the hero.

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#9
Arjay couldn’t help smiling at Steve’s promise. He wouldn’t have expected anything else of the man, to tell the truth. “My good man… if I were to die in such a world, I don’t even know if the fate of my body would matter,” Arjay admitted, parrying the blows, trying to dance through and find an opening. Such things weren’t very easy with a skilled opponent, and particularly today…

Arjay finally held up a hand, leaning one-armed against a tree. “Damn it,” he muttered. At Steve’s expected worried interrogative, Arjay shook his head. “No, nothing’s wrong… nothing and everything, I suppose. I’m rather used to having magic to reinforce me, strengthen my heart. Without it, I just get so blasted tired, and every day it feels like it takes less. That’s probably my paranoia, of course. I don’t know if I should be exercising more to practice it managing without my spells or if I should be resting to conserve my strength.” The elf looked for a moment like he was going to punch the tree, then thought better of it, just leaning harder against it.

“Anyway… as I was saying? If I were to fall here, I don’t know what it would do to my spirit in the meantime, what fate awaits those living here when they die. In some other worlds I’ve been to, my magic has held true, and my goddess has still been able to grant me full range of my spells, or even some token amount of them so that I know that her reach extends there. Here…” He paused, then went on, seeming to be weighing his words. “When we were sent here, she spoke to me… one of the very few times she’s done so directly, and told me that I was outside her reach here. Take my body back, my spirit will still linger wherever the souls of this world go, just as if you were to die in my world, I’d expect that you’d find yourself drawn to the realm of a suitable god of my world. Torm, perhaps… that does seem to suit you, I’ll admit.” He took a deep breath, pressing a hand irritably over his heart. “Granted, it’s all academic, because if you were to die in my world, you could be raised and sent along your way back to your own, I suppose.”
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#10
“Language!”

Of course Steve promised to bring Arjay back to his home world if he were to fall in battle during their quest. Hell, at any time, Steve would make sure that his friend’s body was brought home for a proper burial. Or however they treated their dead amongst his people. ”Well, we can hope, Arjay.”

When Arjay called for a rest, Steve fell back into an easy stance, pressing the button on the rod to return it to its resting state. When they had first met, Arjay had given Steve a little bit of his story, his history, and he had mentioned the state of his heart then. Steve had a memory like an elephant; he didn’t tend to forget things, not easily, and not in the short span of time that had passed since he’d first met the elf in Hub. ”You don’t seem to be slowing down any faster than you did the first day we arrived here, so no, I doubt you’re really tiring more quickly.” Steve spoke carefully, with attention to Arjay’s feelings. He could remember how it was to be the small one, the weak one, the one that everyone had to watch themselves with, so while Steve felt compassion and empathy for Arjay’s situation, he did not pity the elf, knowing that would be the last thing his friend would want. ”Rest when you need to rest, Arjay. Better to be well rested when a fight comes up than to be already tired and only exhaust yourself further. So far, you’ve more than proven yourself in battle with us.” And he had, too.

Considering his friends words, and the meaning behind them, Steve nodded slowly, ”I’m not sure what would happen to any of us if we were to die here. I would hope, if we were able to bring your body back to your world, then perhaps your soul might follow, or be drawn to it, through the portals, or at least to Hub, where your goddess has sway.” He smiled a little bit when Arjay commented on a god that Steve might feel some sort of kinship or reverence for, ”I don’t know who Torm is, but I’ll take your word that I might like him.” Raised and sent on his way back to his own world… ”What if we bring you back to your world and see if they can raise you the same way? Might that draw your soul back to your body, your world?” It was an academic question, yes, just as Arjay had said, because honestly, Steve had no intention of letting any of them die, not if he could help it. ”I still think our best bet here is just for none of us to die in the first place.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#11
Arjay couldn’t help but chuckle as he rested back against the trunk of the tree behind him. “You are the picture of diplomacy, my friend,” he said, unconsciously pressing his palm against his chest. “You are not, however, correct. It may not be very evident when battling wretches like we’ve seen thus far and spending much of our days sitting in that delightful van, but I can feel it. I’m becoming exhausted more easily. It’s this world… the lack of magic, it isn’t good for me.” He shook his head, momentarily much more serious. “A likely reason that my people retreated from it, if they were indeed ever here. I’m not worried about our time here, really. A month, two months, even three, it really wouldn’t have any lasting effect on me, but after that? Six months? A year? I’d begin to wither as surely as a man trying to subsist solely on a few crusts of bread each day.”

Arjay had his own misgivings about Steve’s ideas about what would happen, and while he was resting he was more than happy to wax philosophical. “I’m afraid that I can’t follow that particular line of hope, my friend, for the simple reason that by its very definition, dying severs the connection between body and spirit. Were we in my home world, removing my body from it would have no effect on my spirit, or at least I should hope it would not.” He reached to his waist to where the holy sword usually hung, then felt rather foolish when he didn’t feel it there. “So yes… I do believe that simply ‘not dying’ is our best option, as always. I’m rather unwilling to make a firsthand exploration on the freedom of the spirit after death in this world, and I think I speak for the rest of our companions as well.”
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#12
“Language!”

Being told that Arjay really was wearing more and more quickly as the days passed during their quest was worrisome. The elf was Steve's friend, the first he'd made upon finding himself in Hub, and Steve wasn't willing to consider what might happen to him if this quest continued into further weeks or even months. Steve was definitely homesick as it was, missing Hub and those he had grown close to there, but cut off from his magic and his Goddess, growing weaker by the day? Steve couldn't imagine how horrible this had to be for his friend. “I wish I weren't wrong. But hopefully we'll see this thing through quickly from now on and get back to Hub together.”

Hearing Arjay words that even bringing his body back to his home world would not allow him to be brought back made Steve consider just what would happen were any of them to die. He wasn't real here, not that he could tell. Would he simply cease to be if he died during their quest? The idea weighed heavily on the hero, and Steve fell quiet for a few moments before asking quietly, “If I were to die here, you would bring a message back to those in Hub for me? And to my home universe?” The idea of leaving Tony and his team back home without any idea of what had happened wasn't one that Steve could let go of. They deserved to know…

“But I think that not dying should be our goal.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#13
Similarly, Arjay didn’t like considering the idea of Steve not returning with them from this quest. The man was someone that the worlds needed, and Arjay would be lying if he didn’t harbor some secret idea that one day, Steve might decide that he’d rather come live in Arjay’s world, perhaps become a paladin and help return a bit more of a sense of honor and decency to his world. Even putting that aside, though, the idea of not returning with him to the Hub was just unthinkable, and not only because Arjay couldn’t really see the man falling in battle. “If you should fall, I’ll make sure that your tale is returned to those you knew, and that it does justice to your deeds,” he assured the other man.

“Although,” Arjay said, taking things back to a bit more of a lighthearted tone, “If you think upon it, we already know that this mission succeeds. Granted, we don’t know just how difficult that success will be, but it is a bit pleasant knowing that these are all things which have gone before and that what we’re attempting has already come to pass. I suppose that we could still fail and we could still alter history… but this isn’t exactly a fumbling attempt by blind fools. We’re guided by the same power that caused this the first time, and that must count for something.”
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