This chapter was satisfying to write. I love it when I have no clue how I’m going to fix the mess I’m stuck with and then BAM–it hits me. Well, it wasn’t quite like that this time. More like sitting in my apartment for two days mulling over possible ideas and having them all slowly congeal into something amazing, but whatever! The garbage of the first draft has been transformed into glittering gems! Now the climax can truly begin.
To ease you into the following, thrill-packed chapters I have enclosed a less-exciting picture of five floating continents firing laser beams at the lair of the Dark Brethren:
18 – Retroactive Law
Darrow stood over the couch, a red crease on his cheek. Mean was asleep on the cushions with Dark’s black cape wrapped around her. Dark was next to her, curled up in a ball.
“Geez, guys,” Darrow said, “if you aren’t going to use the other beds let me know; it’s not like I’m sleeping on that beanbag because I want to.”
Mean let out a startled murmur. With blinking eyes she sat up, shrugging off the cape that covered her.
“Oh, Darrow,” she mumbled. “I was just cold, so I took his cape–”
Darrow pointed past the couch to the bedroom doors. “There are beds with silk sheets I could have been using! Honestly!”
“Sorry,” Mean said. “Crud–what time is it? I need to get ready and eat or something.”
“Oh, I swiped some more food,” Vornis said. Mean turned to see him, Tome, and Trisk around the kitchen bar. Something was sizzling in a plate Vornis held, and the spikes at his sides and neck were now a translucent, reddish hue.
Mean looked between them all, and Trisk fought back an amused smile.
“New spikes?” Mean squeaked out. “Red ones?”
“Like your face right now, yeah,” he replied.
Mean covered her forehead with her hand. “Fine. Just give me some of those eggs,” she sighed.
The sun shone into the hallway at Dark and Mean’s backs; they stood before the hex door room on their suite floor.
“THERE ARE FOUR GROUPS IN THE QUEUE;” a monotone voice declared, “PLEASE STEP INTO THE TRANSPORT AREA AND WAIT.”
“Busy day,” Dark stated. “They must all be coming to see your match.”
Mean stepped forward with him. “Yeah,” she grumbled, “like how everyone saw us before we woke up this morning.”
“Saw us?” Dark repeated. “Oh, on the couch together?”
“Uh-huh. Even Trisk,” Mean finished. “Of all the times for her to actually be in the room.”
Dark chuckled. “Come on, it’s not like we were doing anything wrong. I had to make sure you got some sleep, didn’t I?”
“And I did,” Mean said. “Thanks.” She drew in a breath and exhaled. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen today. The match with Templetine–I don’t even care about that. We’re about to see everyone get killed.” She spied Tome and the others coming down the hall toward them. “I just–I just want to know what it is and get it over with. I didn’t realize we’d be spending any time meeting people–getting to know them. I thought it would just be our little group, going around and keeping to ourselves as we solved the mystery. But after seeing Tenny, King–even Parlay turned out to be nice–I don’t want to see any of them hurt.”
Dark stepped aside with Mean, allowing room for Tome, Trisk, Darrow, and Vornis on the hex door platform.
“I think everything is going to work out,” Dark said. “We just need to get through this day. And we know we do, right?”
Mean touched his arm and the sunlight came down bright on all sides: they stood on top of the pyramid’s roof along with the crowds.
“Hey, look, it’s her!” someone called out. Several passers-by pointed and acknowledged the group; the people exiting the hex door before them turned and stepped aside to let them pass.
“Thanks, hi,” Mean said as she walked past them and into the path through the vendors’ stands. Conneld met them as they went, stepping out from the shadow of a funnel cake stand.
“I know who you are,” he whispered.
“Congratulations,” Dark said. “Many have tried to guess, but–”
“Not you–her,” Conneld said, nodding down at Mean. “After this match I intend to get answers to a lot of questions.”
“Yeah, don’t we all,” Vornis muttered. Conneld scowled, departing again as the group reached the losers’ table.
“Hello, Beast!” Donzel greeted. “I sent my swords back home; Templetine won’t be snatching them to use against your friend.”
“Yeah, we all came unarmed,” Jelk said as Trisk, Vornis, and Dark sat down. “It’s true that the dude never took anything from me in the first place, but I’m sure he was just waiting for the finals.”
“I was going to bring something for you, but left it at the house,” Parlay added. “For when you win.”
“Yeah, go get him,” Caldera threw in.
“Thanks guys,” Mean told those at the table. She glanced back at the ring, seeing Templetine already standing within. His slacks and buttoned-up shirt were tight on his body; muscle filled in his shoulders, arms, and legs while a generous gut padded his belly. The white-tipped black hairs swept up from his brow and down from his jaw. He had his eyes closed.
Mean sighed. “Let’s get this over with, I guess.”
“Hold on,” Kello urged. She was pacing ringside, checking her watch. Tipping her parasol to block the sun, she caught King’s eye from where he sat on his pedestal. “Where is Pinada?” she mouthed up.
King shrugged at her. “Can you start without him?” he said, giving his rory’s shell a pat. Kello nodded, clicking the button on her parasol to address the crowd.
“Our guest referee Pinada has not arrived yet. However, the match only requires me to be present. I will start the match on time, and the safety walls will not be raised. Me-anne, please enter the ring.”
Tome and Darrow were at the ladder that ascended to King’s platform. “Where do you think he is?” Darrow asked.
“No idea,” Tome said as he gripped the rungs. “I suppose it makes sense: otherwise he would have just told us how it happened himself.” He started up with Darrow following, and Mean hopped into the ring.
“You came to see me,” Templetine hummed. He opened his eyes, looking off past the edge of the roof to the forested hills.
“Yeah, you,” Mean said, walked up to the throne. “Not your friend, just you.”
“I don’t need him anymore,” Templetine responded, lowering his voice and creeping closer. “So many on this world are watching me now, and that’s what they’ll see: me and no one else.”
“So no tricks, then?” Mean asked. “No gold weights or traps hidden in your pockets?”
“I’m complete now,” Templetine said. “And you’ve brought me everything I need to win.”
Templetine said nothing else, never meeting her gaze. Mean walked to her side of the ring and Templetine retreated to his.
“Let the final match of the “Two Lives to Play” tournament commence!” Kello shouted.
Mean dashed forward and her toes left the ground; she stumbled, dipped, and caught herself on the throne. The audience murmured.
“Look what you brought, Me-anne,” Templetine said. He wandered forward and caught Mean by the arm.
He whips me away from him and I try to catch myself. “Fly” I think, but that isn’t what happens. The pictures appear in my head again: the fall down the apartment stairs when I was ten, the worst of the tumbles from the platform I used to practice on in Tenny’s Tower with Trisk. And I fall again, away from the throne.
Templetine stays at its side. He thinks I can’t take it. He’s doing the same thing from before; from Trisk’s match. He took thoughts from other people and forced them into my head. But this time the feelings are my own. Alright, I don’t need to fly.
I point at the chair and Templetine takes a cautious step away. Then new images blur in and I see my own hand, dropping a plate of food on a customer; slipping and cutting the stem of a plant. I was carrying that plant to the window-side garden for Mom. It was one little slip, but I killed it. We tried to put it in water again but it didn’t grow back. The throne doesn’t move, and Templetine claims it as if it were his.
“I love the strong ones,” Templetine says. “All those adversities they’d overcome in their lives: the ones they think make them better. It only gives them a mind rich with failures to use.”
I try to step forward but I can’t even move: I’m trapped in Mackaba’s wall of liquid. I feel the pressure on my body and the pain of the needle in my skin. I’m bound by my arms and hanging somewhere. I can’t move and I fall. Again, I fall. I try to look to Dark, Darrow, anyone for help but I can’t see them. I only see the people that I tried to hide from. I always tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t Jesian. I always hid my food so they wouldn’t know. I can’t let them see me.
I hide my face and I gasp. I just want to breathe but I can’t even do that. I’m on the platform with Parlay as we rise toward the hall. That plant clouds the air with foul smoke and I cough as that stuff tears at my lungs. He slams me into the floor and any breath I have left is forced out.
“This is where you all belong,” Templetine tells me. “Down on the floor. Your face cast down–you don’t get to look at me. This is how it is on Arsaling; this is how it’s going to be here from now on.”
I sniffle back a staggered breath. What did he say? Arsaling? I’ve heard that somewhere before. An image appears in my mind again; of Parlay’s flying platform, but this time Hellzoo is there. That horrible red circle screaming at us. It says it’s taking us to Arsaling. Is that where this guy is from? My chest takes in air again and I raise my head up. Templetine is staring at me: it’s the first time I’ve seen him look directly at anyone’s face.
“What is that?” he asks. “Is that–how did you see that? That’s Shirka’s avatar. How do you know about that?”
I plant my arm and push up off the ground. Shirka. Is that Hellzoo? Is that what her name really is? Does this guy know her? They’re just people somewhere, controlling those things? She said it was a puppet. The image of us crashing into the city appears. We smashed her into the road. She said it was a puppet. I see Kates’ house and there Hellzoo is, being smashed to pieces again while Dark holds her. That’s right. I’ve beaten her twice. I see the ring and the throne clearly now. I point at it and it rockets backward. Templetine falls now. This guy’s one of them? I beat Hellzoo. I can beat him too.
“You couldn’t have beaten one of us,” Templetine blurts out. It’s like he’s just looking at my thoughts and he’s scared. “You can’t. I need these people more than she does; they should be mine, mine!”
I tip the entire ring up. Yeah, just raise one end right up into the sky. I hold the throne against the slanted mat and I hover over to it, sitting on the seat. I watch as Templetine rolls down the incline and is dumped on the rooftop right next to Kello. She has no idea what’s happening and the crowds are cheering but she counts anyway. Templetine is still staring at me, flat on his back.
“Where are you getting these strange ideas?” he shouts up at me. “They can’t have happened!”
He slams his fist into the ground. I think he knows. I see that he can’t win because he couldn’t have. If he needs people to grovel at his feet–if he needs them alive–then he isn’t the one that kills everyone the future. Which means he can’t win here, in the past.
On King’s pedestal Tome whispered over at Conneld.
“You’re seeing this, aren’t you?”
Conneld set his mouth in a frown. Templetine lay at the bottom of the ring’s slope, shaking his head and gasping in between rants.
“How do you know that?” he yelled up. “I lose everything? I see it. How can I see it if it hasn’t happened? How!?”
“Ten,” Kello finished. The crowd let out triumphant shouts and Mean lowered the ring back into place.
“That is not possible!” Templetine cried. “How can my loss be a fact? How can my loss be a fact!?” “Because you lost,” Kello said. “Mean is the winner.”
18 – Retroactive Law
This chapter title is new. I could have used the latin phrase of “Ex Post Facto.” But in a startling move, I use english words that mean exactly the same thing! I’m ahead of my time.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen today. The match with Templetine–I don’t even care about that. We’re about to see everyone get killed.”
This is part of a new section. I mentioned earlier that I needed to spend time building up tension, and Mean’s anxiety over the genocide is what I decided to focus on. I’ve never expected a genocide before, but I imagine it would be worrisome.
Templetine will prove to be a threat soon enough, so I have her dismiss him. This makes the reveal of his “true power” more of an unexpected thing.
“Not you–her,” Conneld said, nodding down at Mean. “After this match I intend to get answers to a lot of questions.”
Conneld’s lengthy dialog has been cut down to this. Everything mentioning Mean’s family and past has been moved somewhere else–it just doesn’t serve my story right now. And Templetine’s buddy doesn’t even show up at all this time. I realized that it would be a SLIGHT distraction to have an otherworldly monster pop in right before the final round.
I used the extra space from that cut to have the people at the losers’ table discuss some things that I needed to be discussed.
“I don’t need him anymore,” Templetine responded, lowering his voice and creeping closer.
Templetine’s cheating isn’t revealed this time, so I need a new reason for him to play fair. He now believes that he’s become strong enough not to need help. I should go back to the previous chapter so that he can tell his radio pal not to interfere; it would make his sudden change of heart more believable.
He whips me away from him and I try to catch myself. “Fly” I think, but that isn’t what happens.
I got an idea for the match. Templetine would use Mean’s own memories against her: He’d use instances of past failures to overpower her current thoughts. And since I didn’t want to write “she thought this and then she thought this” over and over again, I realized there was only one way I was gonna pull it off–FIRST PERSON PERSPECTIVE!
I used to scoff at this style of writing–shocking, I know–but after reading Hunger Games I saw that it could be useful in certain situations. Even entertaining! So back in book one I switched to first-person for Vornis’ struggle with Dhaston, and I know the time is right to UNLEASH this style again.
I was carrying that plant to the window-side garden for Mom. It was one little slip, but I killed it.
During the “FPP” I wanted Mean to experience some events from her past that weren’t in the previous book. This part right here is something that actually happened to me, and I think it can fit in Mean’s life too.
I’m glad I can use something negative and put it to good use here. It happened when I was in grade school, and I still think about it sometimes. So take that, sad memory! You’re helping me now!
“That is not possible!” Templetine cried. “How can my loss be a fact? How can my loss be a fact!?”
I’m almost mad at myself for not planning things this way from the start. Here I have a time travel story; here I have guys that play with people’s memories. And here they see that their plan is doomed from glimpsing a future event from Mean’s brain. I should have thought of this earlier.
But hey–that’s what second drafts are for. I know I’m not going to come up with the perfect thing to say the first time. I don’t even know how I’m going to end this blog post. So I’ll just plop down something terrible, and let it sit for a year until I come up with an amazing conclusion! YES. Writing is so cool.
Mean has won the tournament! Let’s see–the next chapter is the awarding of the prizes. I’m sure she’ll get the gravity-powered sword she’s always wanted.
Then we’ve got two more chapters where everyone accepts sponsorship deals. Trisk signs up to model sweaters while Dark decides to promote toothpaste. “When half a jaw is all you’ve got, you need the brightest smile there is!”
In a stunning move he donates his paychecks to support orphaned slugs. It’s gonna be a tear-jerker the whole family will love.