Well, this is going to be short. There’s no point in going over the “choice edits” here; everything in this chapter has been incorporated into the second draft already. I’ll just continue on and review chapter 12, which will become chapter 11 for the second draft.
I will put the entire chapter up after the break, though; I want the first draft to be complete for anyone that wants to study it. I’ve heard that the creative writing classes at Dartmouth college have already added this site as mandatory reading. They had to toss out George Orwell to make room for me in their curriculum, but I’m pretty sure we’ve learned everything there is to know about Animal Farm.
11 – Armors’ Reveal
Mean sat with Parlay and the others, and the stands were abuzz with excited murmurs. Dark had his cape wrapped tight around his chest, and Darrow sat beside him, raising his eyebrows.
“Are you cold, there, Dark?” he asked. “Need a blanket or something?”
Dark shifted. “I have some new tools under here,” he explained. “I can’t give away my tactics to the other fighters.”
“Geez, do you have to hide everything?” Darrow sighed.
Down below, a woman was climbing the stairs to the ring. Her large bracelets clinked at her arms; she swung several metal crescents from strings.
“Like see there?” Dark said, pointing down. “Kay Kary has all of her items out where you can see them. I’m sure if I knew what those things were, her strategy would be plain to see.”
“Oh, I can just tell you,” Parlay said as Mean stood up. “She sends those rings out and hooks your arms with them. The crescents are heavier: while you’re caught in the rings, she pins you down to the mat.”
Mean locked her fingers together and stretched her arms out. “Shoot––this’ll be easy,” she said. “I’ll just”––she looked around––”use my secret moves that I shouldn’t talk about.”
“I can’t wait to see them!” Parlay cried, clapping her hands. Mean smiled back at her, picking through the people on her way to the stairs. Kay Kary watched her on the way down, swinging the crescents at her side.
“What are you doing sitting up there with her?” Kary demanded as Mean neared.
“Who, Parlay?” Mean said. “None of your business.”
Kay Kary snorted. She walked over to the throne, leaning against it with her arm. She let the crescents dangle across the floor.
“I’d better not see any of that cheating from you––” she began, “ego or whatever. Your little blond twin up there wouldn’t have won without it.”
“Please get on your side, Kay Kary,” Kello announced. Kary pushed away from the throne and sauntered to the far edge. Pinada rose his hands, and the four walls lifted into position. Mean glared across the ring at her. She removed a remote from her vest.
“We shouldn’t even be having this match,” Kary said. “Everyone knows King let you in for publicity; if you weren’t from another planet you’d all be in jail for crashing his fair.”
Gamemaster Kello tapped her parasol on her shoulder. “Alright––begin!”
Kary sneered and flung her arm out; the remote in Mean’s hand popped from her grip and arced over the wall.
“Oh no!” Mean cried. “How did you do that?”
As she stood with her arm outstretched after the lost device, Kay Kary swept the circular bracelets from her wrist. They shot out from her hand: soaring in a row, then parting as they hovered near Mean. The petite girl let out a loud gasp as the rings forced themselves past her tiny hands and up to her elbows. She flailed and opened her mouth in exaggerated shock as they tripled in weight and dragged her to the mat with them.
“I can manipulate an object’s gravity,” Kay Kary announced. “I can make things fly, or become so heavy that you could never pick them up.” She jingled the crescents, stalking forward. Mean struggled as the rings held her down.
“Egad! We don’t have such things on my world!” Mean lamented. Kay Kary laughed, running a hand through her streaked hair.
“It’s one of our oldest tricks,” she explained. “Now hold still––wouldn’t want to snap off one of those scrawny arms.”
Kay swung the strings and let go: the crescents flew over toward Mean, who was laying still. Up in the stands, Parlay wrung her hands.
“I warned her!” she cried. “I told her that––”
She looked over at Vornis, whose suppressed chuckling lined his grey face with countless wrinkles.
“Why are you laughing?” Parlay asked. “She’s lost right away!”
Below, the crescents pointed their tips downward and locked Mean’s limbs into place. She pretended to cry.
“I forgot,” Vornis said, snickering, “you don’t know what she can do.”
Parlay looked over at Dark. He covered the top of his helmet with his hand. “She’s going a little overboard, isn’t she?” he groaned.
“Oh help!” Mean cried out, flat on her back and sniffling. “I’m too stupid to know how to do anything! I’m from Jesice, and I’m really dumb!”
Kay Kary backed away, peering down at Mean with her overshadowed eyes. “I thought Jelk was the only clown we had here. Are you trying to take his place? You’re making a fool out of yourself.”
Mean tugged at her bonds. “Oh, wait!” she exclaimed. “I’ll just fly out of here!” As she spoke, the crescents wobbled and the rings leapt and jiggled at her limbs. She strained, working the points out from the mat as her body lifted inch by inch from the ground. Kay Kart shrieked.
“You little––you’re moving my things! You liar! You can––”
The crescents snapped free; Mean leapt up and soared straight into the air; the audience uttered gasps as Mean left the ground. She rose past the tops of the walls and hovered above them, picking the rings from her and dropping them down to where Kay Kary stomped.
“Cheater!” she cried, shielding her face as one of the loops whizzed past. “You’re one of them!”
Mean hopped on top of the wall and kicked off with her feet: bounding over to the other side. She hovered just over Kello’s umbrella.
“Hey!” Kary called out to her. “It’s ring out! Start counting!”
“I read the rules,” Mean called back. “As long as I don’t touch the ground it’s okay.”
Kello gave a nod, tilting her parasol to the side and peeking past the rim at Mean.
“Bull!” Kary shouted, pacing back to the ring’s middle. She stopped there, hissing through her teeth at the empty space there. She spun back again to glare at Mean, who was coaxing the throne over the wall and through the air to her. Their eyes met, and Mean hopped into the chair, grinning.
“This––is this even allowed?” Kary spat, watching Mean soar around the sides of the ring in the throne. Kello began counting. Kary pointed at the chair as it circled the corner; it jerked off toward the audience. They yelped and reached up as Mean passed by: she clung to the chair as it bucked and swung. The bottom swirled up for a moment and Mean remained fastened to the seat upside-down. She bared her teeth with a wide smile as Kello made it to five. The people below her cheered her on.
“Stop!” Kary demanded, running over and kicking the wall. “Stop cheering for that skinny cheat!”
Mean righted the chair and slammed it down at the side of the ring, close to where Pinada stood.
“You can stop with that,” Mean shouted over the wall. “If Mrs. Rules over there thinks it’s fine then it’s fine. You could learn how to fly too, you know. It’s a lot like moving an object, and you know how to do that.”
“Shut up!” Kary shot back. “You’re an alien; you don’t know how it is here! I can’t just ‘learn’ it!”
“Ten,” Kello announced. “Me-anne wins the match. She will move on to battle Parlay.”
The crowd whistled and clapped as Mean stood up. “I love you, Me-anne!” a guy called from somewhere.
“Well done,” Pinada said, gliding his box closer to her. “You could both move the chair, but in the end your ability to modify your own weight and position prevailed.”
“Oh, come on guys, it wasn’t that tough,” Mean laughed, taking a backward glance at the stands. Dark nodded at her as he descended the stairs, still holding the sides of his long cape close.
“And here comes the last of the Jesians!” Pinada proclaimed. “Are we going to make this a clean sweep? It will really be something if all four of you win your first matches.”
Kay Kary muttered as she gathered her crescents and rings from the mat.
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up; I don’t know any magic,” Dark said. “I just went and bought some things. We’ll give it a try.”
“What about that armor?” Pinada asked. “Is it from your world? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that here.”
“That’s a secret,” Dark replied. He lifted himself up onto the ring as Kary marched off: her teeth grinding and her jewelry clattering in her hands. On the pedestal, King rose from his seat and lifted his microphone to his beard.
“Ah––I have just received word that Jelk has withdrawn from the tournament,” he announced. “Gamemaster Kello, is there––?”
“Dark wins the final latecomer match by default!” Kello boomed. “He will move on to the next round against Eon!”
Mean slapped Dark’s armored leg, looking up at him. “Wow! Great job!” she said. “Keep it up and you’ll win this whole thing!”
Pinada chuckled and Dark knelt at the ring’s edge. “Hilarious. I wonder what happened to Jelk, though? He doesn’t seem like the type to shy away from the stage.”
“Dark, please stay in the ring,” Kello said. She pressed the button on her parasol and her amplified voice rose over the chattering crowd. “In the event of an immediate forfeit, the winner’s next match will begin at once––if possible.”
“Oh, you have got to be kidding,” Dark said. Mean beckoned him down to her ear. “I was counting on Jelk being first;” he whispered, “I had a strategy for Eon, but I needed time to prepare it.”
“I’ll tell her,” Mean said. She trotted over to Kello, leaning in under the light-blue umbrella. “Excuse me, but Dark’s not ready,” she told her. “Can’t you just move on to the other matches? I can go next if you want.”
Kello turned, tipping the parasol back. Mean blinked, shading her eyes with her hand.
“No,” Kello stated.
“Please?” Mean asked. “Can’t we just take a break or something, then?”
Kello’s eyes were on Eon as he emerged from a cluster of vendors, stuffing the last of a pastry into the gap in his helmet. “Me-anne, the match is commencing. Now please, stand somewhere else; harassing the gamemaster is agains the rules.”
Mean grumbled and circled around the ring’s corner again, shaking her head at Dark. He placed his hand on his helmet.
“Then I suppose that leaves me no choice,” he said. “I’ll have to put on a show in Jelk’s place.”
Mean chuckled. “Excuse me?”
“That’s right!” Dark shouted, swirling around and tossing the hem of his cape out. It flapped away from his body, revealing two holsters strapped to his sides.
“Are you people ready!?” he called out to the crowd, whipping out a large gun and waving it over his head. He squeezed the trigger and a long jet of flame burst from the nozzle; people gasped and looked up from their seats.
“I’m the Darklord and I’m gonna light this place up, baby!” he exclaimed, whirling the fiery stream in a circle over his head. Eon stopped where he was, licking frosting from his fingers with a quizzical stare. Mean glanced around.
“Dark, what are you doing?” she asked between her teeth.
“I’m saying ‘ARE YOU PEOPLE READY!?'” he repeated again, louder this time and shaking his hips.
“We’re ready!” the crowd answered back, laughing.
Dark held his glove to the side of his helmet, cupping it. “Sounds like you guys are ready to party with the Darklord!”
Mean covered her face with her hands as Dark encouraged more cheers and began to write a giant “D” on the floor with his miniature flamethrower.
“What is he thinking!?” Tome asked as people around him, Vornis, Trisk, Parlay, and Darrow began chanting Dark’s name.
“Acting like an idiot,” Trisk said. “Darrow, you’ve finally corrupted him.”
Darrow looked sideways at her. “He said he had a plan for this guy. And I did not!”
Down in the ring, Dark had finished scrawling his name and tossed the weapon aside. The pulled out the other gun and held it over his head. When he pulled this one’s trigger it sparked: an electric arc flashed down to his shoulders, squirming and dancing across his black armor. The crowd applauded.
“That’s right––I’m the most electrifying man in this ring!” Dark declared. He strutted in between the burning letters that flickered, as the leaping arcs swirled across his arms and traveled down his legs. Eon took his place at the other end, and Pinada rose the four walls into place.
“Begin the match!” Kello announced.
Dark stood a moment more as the electric trails continued to spark from the gun, washing over his armor.
“Your didn’t have those devices when I saw you earlier; I was hoping you’d be different from the rest,” Eon said. He flexed his arms backward, and the leather straps at his wooden breastplate creaked. “But you’ve succumbed to the temptation of magic: indulging yourself in its folly like the others. Tragic.”
Dark released the trigger and the current ceased. He placed the gun back into its holster. “I have succumbed to many follies, as you say––or at least I thought so. I’ve seen things from different sides lately, so it’s hard to tell.”
He walked toward the chair and Eon matched his stride: his massive legs causing the ring’s surface to wobble.
“So you’re being serious now?” Eon asked, meeting him at the side of the throne. “Tell me: you’ve seen a world without magic and one tainted by it. Which do you think is better?”
Dark looked back at the dying flames and the scorched lines they were leaving. “Can’t I just say both worlds have their good and bad points?” he said, turning back. “If you think a world without magic is a perfect paradise, think again––people are capable of evil even if they have nothing. Even if they have everything.”
“True,” Eon agreed. “But surely the capability for wickedness is greater when more power exists? Can men on your world draw comets out of the sky? Force others to act as their slaves? We have the means to annihilate every person on this planet. Can your world without magic do such a thing?”
“You may have those destructive means,” Dark replied, “but you also have the means to prevent it. For every comet there is a Pinada to hold it back. For every person harmed there is a Parlay to heal them.”
“Blasphemers!” Eon roared, “They are the worst! They are the ones with the most power––if Parlay were to turn out like Blood Hill who could stop her?”
Dark snorted, placing his hand on his belly. He laughed, bracing himself with the chair. “Someone would stand up to Parlay, I bet!” he said, looking over at where Mean stood. “There’s balance in everything, I’ve found. From the most unlikely of places, it always comes from somewhere.”
“Then let it come from me!” Eon shouted, slamming his wide palm into Dark’s chest. “Let it come from Sing, almighty!”
Dark bounced backward and landed on his rear; Eon bowed his head and began to chant.
“Grant me the power to show this heathen the way; purge his wicked thoughts. Let me be the vessel to bring your light to this place; let me show them the strength of your purification.”
As he spoke the lighted rays extended from his chest again. King nodded at Pinada from his pedestal, and in an instant a fifth glass plate appeared above the square ring. The sides met the four walls and locked into place to form a ceiling.
“Well here we go,” Dark said, shielding his face from the encroaching rays. They curved around his armor’s sleek surface as they met his arm: wrapping around it, reaching out to his face, following the contours in his helmet, and moving on.
The lines radiating out from Eon lit the inside of the ring as they filled every space from the walls to the top. With a snap they contracted into his body; Dark stumbled to one knee.
“Hey, what happened!?” Mean shouted. She slapped the glass with her palm. “Did it––?”
Dark looked over with a nod. Placing a gloved hand on his knee, he labored to stand.
“So your armor was powered by magic,” Eon stated. He frowned with a tilt of his head, clomping over. “It takes strength to wear a full suit––now it’s obvious that you don’t have the physique.”
Dark wobbled and lunged; Eon’s fist struck his helmet. There was a crack and Dark twisted backward. Shining, black pieces bounced over the mat.
“Dark!” Mean called. She sidestepped Pinada, her eyes on Dark as he fell. He pushed himself up as the thudding footsteps closed in, looking over at Mean. Half of a jaw smiled back at her through a hole: the lips framed by jagged cracks in the helmet. Eon planted his boot in his stomach and flipped him onto his back.
“You make another good lesson,” he said, staring down at Dark. “Your reliance on magic has made you even weaker than my first opponent.”
Dark chuckled through the gap in his helmet. “Weakness is handy sometimes––sometimes it’s the best thing to bring down the strong. Or those that perceive themselves to be strong, anyway.”
Eon scowled, kneeling over him. “I am strong,” he said, thumping a palm on Dark’s chest. “You can do nothing but lay there and squirm when your power is taken from you!”
“You didn’t take it all,” Dark replied, panting. His hand brushed the holster and pulled the gun out. “I noticed it by watching those sparking skulls that Jelk tossed in the ring when you fought. Several of them kept going, even after your trick. They were the ones he threw down first––the ones that had used up most of their magical energy.”
He rose the barrel to the Eon’s head, his arm trembling.
“So I figured your attack needed a strong pattern in order to strip it away; a weak one would get passed over. So I emptied my guns until just a little magic was remaining in both. I think I have one good shot left in each.”
Eon did not move or say anything. Dark smiled again. “So, am I right?”
The massive arm jerked and Dark squeezed the trigger; an arc flashed from the nozzle and sizzled across Eon’s head. He spasmed, toppling sideways as wisps of black smoke swirled away from his wooden helmet. Dark struggled to his feet and made for the throne.
“Yeah! Dark, you did it!” Mean shouted, running across the edge of the ring with him. They went halfway and he halted: a shard of the shattered, black helmet was stuck in the ground. He knelt, picked it up, and began to clamber back over to where Eon lay.
“Jeez, you don’t have to kill him––just sit in the chair!” Mean shouted back. Dark’s lips curled at her as he dropped to the massive man’s side.
“It’s just a hunch I have,” he said, his breath heavy. “I need to check it out––it’s something Tome said.”
“Something Tome said!?” Mean repeated as Dark took the sharp edge of the shard to Eon’s side. He sawed at the leather straps holding the wooden breastplate on, snapping one off, then the other. Eon grunted and stirred.
“The chair, Dark, the chair!” Mean screamed, and Dark lifted the plate away from the man’s back.
“Maybe you’re right,” Dark agreed, and he scrambled away: racing to the throne and plopping down.
“One,” Kello called out.
The ring wobbled as Eon slammed his huge palms into it; rising up on wavering arms. He stood and his heel slipped for a moment. His breastplate hung askew and his eyes wandered.
As Kello shouted “Five,” Eon’s black pupils snapped to the chair. With a growl he flung the armor from his chest and barreled forward.
“Great,” Dark said, curling his fingers around the armrests. Eon wedged his hand behind the black cape and swept him off with one stroke. Taking his place on the seat, Kello counted for him now.
“Dark, the other gun!” Mean shouted. “Blast him with it!”
Dark’s head bobbed as he took plodding steps over to where the discarded flamethrower was. He scooped it up and Eon rose from the throne.
“Just try it,” Eon dared, circling around and doing his best to conceal his wide frame behind the back of the chair. “Fire it––then I’ll smash the rest of your face in.”
The spectators were still as Dark leveled the gun’s barrel at Eon. A steady breath came from the half-open mouth behind the shattered hole. A tap sounded and Dark ignored it at first: but it persisted, tapping against the mat at his side. He glanced over, seeing the two wooden slabs of armor that Eon had discarded. The breastplate was wobbling to and fro.
“You didn’t––” Dark said, watching it rock. “It’s in there!?”
“What is?” Eon asked, “Stop stalling and––”
Kello cleared her throat. “I must ask you to explain, Eon; I didn’t see any patterns on that armor before. How is it moving?”
“He put a rory inside it,” Dark spat. “He took a living creature and squeezed it in between two plates of armor!”
“Alright!” Eon admitted. “So I’m using a pet! Animal companions are allowed, aren’t they?”
“Companion?” Dark repeated, drawling every syllable. “You took it out of its shell and stuffed it in there! You used it!”
Eon kicked the throne. “It’s helping further Sing’s cause––and any magic I use on my own would make me a hypocrite! To remain pure I had to do it. I had to make a sacrifice somewhere!”
The teeth behind the mask clenched and the breath hissed out. “A sacrifice, really? You put him in, locked him away. Do you know how that feels? Always hidden, never feeling the sun on your skin; feeling nothing but the armor that holds you––traps you!”
Mean put her hands to her mouth and the jet from the gun poured out in one violent burst. The wooden armor burned and the four walls lowered. Kello called for disqualification and King leapt up in a rage. When he had mounted his rory and swooped down to the smoldering pile, a tiny, wet creature was breaking out.