Wednesday Night Writing Exercise: In the Playroom

This is something of a character showcase and backstory piece I did last month. (It sometimes amuses me how much more descriptive text I’ve used on Malora than on Lian. This tends to happen with the second primary character in a given story, to the point where she—it’s generally a she—starts taking over from whoever I thought would be the main.) Somewhere in my brainstorming process, “raised by educational toys” slipped itself into my head as a backstory for Malora and a way of explaining her power set, and this is the result.

“If she is meant to learn, she will learn,” the elder says. “They have tutored generations.

Generations have been tutored using them, her mother thinks. The difference is notable.

Malora creeps to the foot of a rocking horse and begins to pull herself up, running a hand along the chipped paint. She cannot quite reach a good handhold—she reaches, reaches again, and gives the flank of the horse a glare more appropriate to one of her dilettante cousins: how dare you defy me? Her arm stretches to reach the point.

Here the elder turns away with a grimace. “We have tarried long enough,” he says, “and your honor is still much in need of mending.”

- – -

Malora remembers. Remembers her mother returning that evening, telling her that the toys will teach her everything. Mother always came back, at least.

Malora remembers learning. The little abacus whose beads would fly or cling to the string, the plates of symbols that warmed to the touch under her hand. There were nights when she could ask her mother how they were used, yes, but the rest was trial and error and error again. But the successes! When she traced the character for sky in curry paste on her plate, and the elder gave her a face as if he, and not she, had eaten too many sweets. When on the way to and from the room she would recite those funny phrases the book whispered in her ear.

…and then there were the broken ones, the imperfect ones, the ones with something missing. She’d carefully sorted them into their own pile, to learn on their own or fix themselves, if they were deserving. Made a show, whenever she heard footsteps, of having another wrong one to cast aside in the light of the toyroom door. And in the hottest portions of the day, when everyone was at rest, sneaking one in to her and telling it what it could do to be better, that it wasn’t its fault but that that couldn’t be helped, that it needed to work harder than any of the other toys, but for now something needed to be done about that shoulder, how could any doll live like that?

And it answered back. Not the toy itself, mind. Voices were only given to books, and they only softly. But this one had a second face, and hair that trailed into nothingness, and it said that it needed a pin in a particular place.

At dinner, that night, she asked for a pin, and ignored their feel-guilty faces.

It did not take Malora long to learn that there were three kinds of broken thing. There were the ones that had just been worn and torn, but could be repaired—paint here, a few stitches there, a bead sewn on here even if it was just the approximation of the original. Those she could handle, and better than anyone, shaping her fingers to go where nobody else could reach, her back to lift the offending bits up just for long enough, locking her knuckles as a vise, the most versatile tool in the house. There were the ones that had been hurt so hard, shattered and broken so much, that no amount of stitching or patching could make them what they were before—the ones that could not be fixed, but could be reborn. And then there were the ones where something was wrong in the make. The wrong materials. The wrong connections. The ones that could not be fixed without being destroyed.

The ones that were like her.

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