The Ultimate Playoffs (of Ultimate Destiny)
Leaving the first round behind, we now turn to a new set of match-ups as battle-hardened contenders struggle to make their marks upon the pages of history.
And for those who missed anything:
- the beginning of half the battles
- The introduction to the rest of the battles
- The resolution of Heat/Knicks & Pacers/Magic
- The conclusion of Thunder/Mavericks & Spurs/Jazz
- The termination of Lakers/Nuggets & Sixers/Bulls
- The culmination of Celtics/Hawks & Clippers/Grizzlies
Survivor Series ground rules: I chose a different group from literature, cinema or pop culture for every playoff team, based on the qualities inherent to that team, and now I'm bending genres to create a single, unified story woven together from these fictitious groups battling it out at the same time the NBA teams they mirror are competing. The playoff results will dictate the plot of each story, and I'll continue this until the champion is crowned, and the characters representing that team will be the last to survive.
And now, on to the Second Round
In this installment, two very different worlds collide:
San AntonioSpurs = The Great Old Ones (by H.P. Lovecraft)
The trophy was theirs, once. It shall be theirs again. Ancient beyond reckoning, yet more powerful than mere humans can conceive, the stars have aligned at last for the Elder Gods of the NBA to reclaim their thrones.
Los Angeles Clippers = Toys from Toy Story
They're fun, they're a charismatic ragtag band ... but are they in over their heads? Also, tell me that Blake Griffin isn't Buzz Lightyear. He's not flying, he's falling with style.
Now, join us for a thrilling tale of courage and terror when these two forces meet in:
PLAYTHINGS OF THE ELDER GODS
A toy doesn’t die.
The moment of the explosion stretched out indefinitely in Woody's mind. He felt the floor buckle beneath him, saw Andy's kidnapper thrown into the air and then crushed beneath a falling bank of monitors. He saw - or thought he saw - faithful old Buzz, suspended in midair, wings extended and his one remaining fist thrust skyward. He saw the ceiling as it tumbled towards him in fractured slabs of concrete. After that he saw nothing for a long time.
A toy doesn't die. Not trapped under a hundred tons of wreckage, not a thousand miles from the boy he loves. Woody, buried as he was, had struggled at first even to move his feeble cloth arms. After hours or days, however, he shook himself loose and pushed upward, churning the debris that imprisoned him. Slowly, ever so slowly, he swam toward freedom through compacted dust and gravel.
At length Woody's hat met with a slanting cement barrier. He began to tunnel parallel to the impervious ceiling, moving only inches closer to the surface for every foot of horizontal tunneling. His route intersected with the resting place of a buried metal fragment that sliced deep into the cowboy doll's stuffed belly. Grasping his pullring, he drew out the string as far as it would go and then severed it on the jagged edge. Cinching a tourniquet around his waist, trailing stuffing, the toy pressed on.
He pulled himself forward, onward, upward, a fraction of an inch at a time. His fingers scraped at the concrete lid of his lightless coffin. Woody could not judge how far he had dug, or how long he had been at it; his plastic hands wore down to nubs. He gripped the metal fragment that had gutted him between his wrists, using it as a spade. This seemed to make the work go faster, but in the stygian darkness he could only guess at the passing of time. How much farther he would have to travel to reach sunlight he had no idea.
In the deafening subterranean silence, voices came to keep him company. Andy's voice, crying, calling for his favorite toy. I'm here, Andy. At length Woody felt concrete both above and below him; he was burrowing between two slabs that the explosion had buried close together. I'm coming, Andy. The space between the slabs grew narrower and narrower. The cowboy left his hat behind. Soon his face was scraping the roof of his unlit world. His left cheek was scoured away, his left eye. Time passed, and passed, and passed.
The voice of Buzz Lightyear joined Andy's. "Woody! Are you there?"
I'm here, Buzz. With half of his painted mouth sanded away, Woody did not bother to say the words out loud. I'm here, Andy. I'm coming.
"I'm coming! Hold on there, buddy!"
Light. Brilliant, utterly blinding, and a sudden shadow. Woody was rising from the mud. Hands were holding him. "Andy," he murmured. "Andy, I'm here. I'm home."
Buzz slapped him, plastic palm rattling against the unravaged half of the cowboy's face. "Not quite, partner," the action figure chuckled. "But we'll get there."
An hour or so later Woody was sitting in the noonday sun atop the vast pile of rubble. With his remaining eye he looked down into the pit from which he had emerged. "How long?" He asked at last.
Buzz, his armor pocked and cracked but once more in possession of all his limbs, squeezed Woody's sodden shoulder. "I didn't think to start counting until I'd been at it for a while, and I couldn't tell you how long it took me to get free in the first place. Best guess, I'd say you're looking at a year and a half of digging."
Woody nodded. The site had been meticulously excavated, a thirty-foot square of stairstepped cuts in the rubble. Buzz pointed. "Found my leg over there, between the fifth and sixth tiers. I've been keeping things as neat as I could, didn't want to risk missing something, but last week I turned up my other arm - the one you were holding when everything went boom." He sighed. "Been hauling around the clock ever since. Figured you must be close. Guess I figured right."
"Yeah." Woody nodded. The whispers had begun to recede from the corners of his mind. "Thanks, Buzz. You could have ... I mean ... thanks for staying."
At this, Buzz laughed heartily. "Oh, don't thank me for that. Not ‘til you've had a look around." Then, as Woody turned his head to survey the desolation, "I don't know exactly what happened when you blew Blofeld's hideout, but this isn't quite the island paradise it used to be."
Of the small outcropping in the middle of the Pacific - the hump of rock upon which the villain had built his lair - little remained. The whole domed complex had fallen, and the island itself seemed to have sunk beneath the waves until only the mound on which they sat remained unsubmerged. This was not what chiefly caught Woody's attention, however. He stared, his one eye wide, at the jutting promontory that now loomed before them.
"The way I figure it," Buzz said, "when that bomb went off, most of the island went down like Atlantis. And thiscame up."
Woody gaped at the newborn vista. In reclaiming the island, the sea floor had disgorged a strange and alien new landscape. Vast peaks and ponderous valleys, dripping with the slime of an eon's submersion, had reared up from the depths. Then, in a moment of nauseous clarity, the cowboy doll was struck with realization: these resurrected spires were no mountains, butmasonry, cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths. Dripping with green ooze and garlanded with brown seaweed, this uncanny citadel now rode above the surf that had mercifully hidden it for what must have been millennia.
Woody gulped, choking on a horror that struck deeper than any he had felt during his premature burial. This nameless city, grotesque and exposed like the bloated corpse of some ancient leviathan, filled him with a primal sense of indefinable unease. His half-face slackened, and he fell back upon the debris ... yet, though everything within him swooned, his consciousness refused to leave him. At length he sat up once more.
"No. No." Woody spoke the first word to the silent, sea-rotten city, and the second to Buzz. The plastic spaceman had started off towards the brooding tumor of stone blocks and pillars, his jaunty gait all too familiar.
Glancing back, Buzz waved a beckoning hand. "C'mon, pal! You and that hole have spent enough time together - we've got exploring to do! Anyway, I've wanted to check this place out for a year and a half. I promised myself that I wouldn't go until I dug you out. Now you're out. Step lively!"
Woody stood, and hesitated. Behind him the dark ocean lapped against the mound that had been his grave; ahead, the city awaited. The figure of Buzz Lightyear grew smaller as his friend clambered up the barnacled stone steps of the nearest tower. The cowboy doll clutched at his belly where he had been torn; now the pain was an ache of dull horror, and the sharp agony of indecision. Could he face whatever unknown terrors lurked in this forgotten place? Could he bear to remain here, exposed, alone?
Andy. Whatever lay in this strange city or beyond it, he must move forward to find his way home. Boots clicking on the seaweed-strewn stones, Woody dashed after his friend. He pelted through the yawning doorway of the tower and into the shadows beyond.
"Buzz! Wait up!"
Woody followed the voice through unlit corridors and chambers whose purpose he dared not guess. The gloom that engulfed him grew deeper and more profound as windows grew scarce. At last he could see only the faint outlines of the walls, coated as they were in faintly phosphorescent colonies of some deep-sea algae or fungus. On and on Woody ran, fearing to be left behind, fearing the shadows that surrounded and pursued him.
Something seized him from behind. Woody flailed wildly, his handless wrists batting against the unseen thing that had grabbed him about the waist.
"Woody! Would you calm down already?" With a press of a button, Buzz Lightyear's emergency helmet light clicked on. He glared sternly into the wide eye of his panicked companion. "Listen up, cowboy, you've got a thing or two to learn about exploring strange new worlds. Rule number one is..." he pointed his light at the ground ahead of them. "...watch where you're going."
The two toys stood on the lip of a great circle of utter blackness. The pit or well must have been over a hundred feet across, its depth entirely unfathomable. With a shudder, Woody shrank back from the awful abyss into which he had nearly careened headlong. He followed closely in the action figure's footsteps when Buzz turned back to inspect the vast hall in which they found themselves.
"Fascinating. Astonishing." Buzz stroked his chin as he examined the bas relief carvings that adorned the section of wall that his tiny light managed to illuminate. "It's life, Woody, but not as we know it."
"But what ... what is it?" Peering over his friend's shoulder, Woody stared at the sculpted shapes. The workmanship was remarkable; the artist had breathed such life into the figures that the passing centuries had done little to dull their character. Hundreds, thousands of minutely detailed things - man-shaped, but with blunt heads and bulbous, fish-like eyes - cavorted in ecstasy or mania around tiny towers that he recognized as those of the very city in which the toys now trespassed. "What are they doing? And what are they? It's awful, it's-"
"Now now, don't be so quick to judge." The experience of finding himself in so truly alien a place had activated long-dormant memory chips in Buzz Lightyear. "We know nothing of this civilization - they are merely foreigners, with ways different from our own. This is, no doubt, a depiction of some sort of folk dance or tribal worship." He paced slowly around the edge of the room, following the sculpted mural. "You see, look here. They appear to be performing a ritual in honor of ... some sort of serpent-god, perhaps?"
The tail of the serpent-god in question dwarfed the worshippers that surrounded it. The explorers followed its sinuous length around the circumference of the chamber - still they did not reach its head. Instead, the mighty snake was joined by others; soon a multitude of serpentine tails dominated the scene, a great mass of twisting tendrils set indelibly in the stone. The mural terminated in darkness as the toys arrived at a gap in the wall, a massive doorway onto an inky void.
"Hmmm." Buzz folded his arms. He took a slow step backward, then another and another. The circle of light grew fainter as he withdrew from the wall, but it also expanded until, very dimly, it encompassed the whole of the massive portal and the carvings that surrounded it.
What Woody beheld with his remaining eye would have carried him into the arms of madness and oblivion - but a toy cannot escape himself so easily. In the split-second before he turned and ran, Woody saw that the vast serpents carved upon the chamber's walls met and joined at the doorway to form a single body: a mass of writhing tentacles, extending from a monstrous head in which twelve clusters of faceted emeralds shone with an evil luster.
It was not the glitter of the twelve jeweled eyes in the face of that sculpted abomination that sent Woody fleeing from that cyclopean doorway, but the twelve great orbs, burning with green fire, that winked abruptly open in the darkened room beyond.
The clatter of Woody's boots upon the ancient stone ceased suddenly as the cowboy doll found himself falling. Falling? Flying? He tumbled for what seemed an eternity, minute after minute careening through endless night. When at last his tiny body reached its destination, the primordial ooze at the bottom of the great pit enveloped him with barely a splash. The slime of millennia past coated and clung to him, congealing, holding him fast.
Somewhere above Woody the stars continued to wheel through their celestial dance. Night arrived, and then the day. Continents froze and burned as age followed age, and new gods rose and reigned and sunk once more beneath the sea. Around him, the blind cave things - polypous jellies, pallid worms, mindless fungous creatures - accepted his presence among them and continued their eternal cycles of birthing, feeding, dying.
But a toy doesn't die.
to be continued...