Abandonment Party 2: Chapter 22 (Second Draft)

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Well, this chapter took a while. Was it tough? A little. This side-story with Mackaba needs to be handled carefully; if it doesn’t seem important enough the reader could lose interest in the finale.

But I gotta be honest: my immense resolve to write was tested. See, I got invited to the Hearthstone beta, and I might have spent a few nights playing cards when I should have been describing wind-swept landscapes and coming up with sarcastic things for government officials to say.

And then my friend Matt got into the game too! What am I to do!? Leave him to discover the deep mechanics of the cards by himself!? The Knife Juggler gnome card has complex strategies that must be explored!

I helped him out, and I’m lucky that he goes to sleep a few hours before I do–leaving me time to write without any excuses. Yep. Sometimes your willpower is only as strong as your friends’. Or at least it’s as strong as the wife that makes him turn off the game and go to bed.

 DRAFT START

23 – Two Worlds to Save

 

Mean watched as Pinada vanished, the debris around her shifted and the floor grew a shade dimmer. A helicopter was now sitting on the far edge of the roof where the railing was split. Thin clouds overshadowed the scarred hill that Tome had struck. Its crater had been overgrown with thatches of fresh green. Mean flinched: Glass walls had been placed around her in a cube.

She gasped and staggered back, bumping into the pane behind her. Checking to the left she spied Dark inside another glass case. Darrow was standing in one as well, with Tome and Vornis trapped in separate cases further back. Vornis mouthed unheard curses while Tome spun, searching the grounds with his yellow eyes.

Mean looked down at her clothes: the yellow sundress she had worn a week ago hung from her shoulders. She brushed her fingers over the material.

A face appeared at her side and she jumped again. It was an image, glowing on the inside of the glass wall: Parlay’s face, along with Eon, Tenny, and others. Their portraits popped up on all sides of her–King, Kello, people that Mean had seen in the crowds–they covered the walls, the ceiling, the floor. She shook her head, sniffing, gritting her teeth.

Words appeared on the walls next: “COME GET YOUR PRIZE, WINNER,” it read.

There came a loud pop and the six glass panes vanished. Mean saw Dark beside her: they were standing in the chilly, wooden Brinkland gazebo.

“Dark, there were pictures–”

“I know,” Dark said. Fir trees swayed behind him, past the gazebo’s struts. A path lead out toward several buildings. The grass had encroached on the path and road, jutting out over edges and poking up through cracks. Among the tall weeds and brush long, smooth objects were laid out. They were polished, wooden. Black.

“Coffins,” Mean said.

The side of the nearest building had bright letters spelled out with paint: “NOW YOU’RE THE ONE IN THE BOX.”

Tome was racing out of the far right gazebo along with Vornis. The fir trees cast long shadows over a sign he passed. It read: “SAY CRICKETS!” in a sharp, scrawled font.

“Guys, we need to get back to the cave!” Mean called out, emerging with Dark from the gazebo at the end.

“Why!?” Vornis boomed. He tore the sign out of the ground, tossing it far into the brush. “He knows we’re here! He planned it all out! Geez–he played us like wide-eyed suckers!”

“We need to try, though,” Mean said. “I stood aside while it happened so that we’d have this chance. I’m going back, whether you’re with me or not.”

“Yeah, standing aside,” the beast grumbled. “I saw you all doing that. While he killed Donzel, Tenny–”

“Alright, enough,” Tome said. “We all know what happened and we all feel guilty.”

Vornis bit his lip, his clawed finger hanging in the air.

Mean sniffed. “Trisk wouldn’t want me to dwell on it. You can if you want to.”

“Fine,” Vornis muttered. “But what’s the plan gonna be? He won’t just let us back into his cave and mess with his stuff. Can you hold him down? Do you know any way to bust that glass open?”

Tome shook his head. “Pinada is completely sealed off; he uses his magic to keep it impenetrable. I can’t even see thoughts in there. If he wants to do something outside his case he uses hand motions to signal the four devices on the top corners of the box.” He nodded at Mean. “You might be able to help me hold him. If we can keep him still then Vornis can get close enough to destroy those transmitters. If we can get him immobile–keep him stalled–one of us might be able to go get his time machinery figured out.”

Vornis slammed a fist to his palm. “Yeah, got it. Let’s go.”

The group moved through a sidewalk into the middle gazebo, where Darrow was standing, his eyes still moist.

“We’re going to get her back, Darrow,” Mean said. She wiped at her eyes and stood next to him. “You don’t have to go with us, though. It’s going to be more dangerous this time.”

Darrow shook his head, wiping his palm across his flowery shirt. “You guys need me to figure out his time stuff. And besides, I’m not staying here with these coffins.” Tome, Dark and Vornis entered the hex door. Darrow gasped at Dark as they all crowded in.

“Don’t say anything,” Dark told him, turning to the side. “He could be listening.”

“Alright, take us to Droldragia,” Tome announced. The forest of pine trees disappeared, and a bright field of yellow grass took its place. A paved road stretched across it. Muddy tire tracks lead down the asphalt toward a far-off site: cranes and construction vehicles labored around the skeletal steel frames of half-finished buildings. The group took cautious steps out to the road. Vornis glanced in the left, where the street terminated into the field.

“Okay,” Vornis said, taking a heavy breath. “I can carry Darrow and Tome–Mean, can you take Dark?”

“Don’t bother,” Tome uttered. “He’s here.”

Tome was staring across the road, where the yellow plain wavered in the sun. Pinada’s glass cube was soaring across the tops of the thick grasses, headed for the group.

“Mean, you’re the fastest–get to the cave,” Tome said. “Vornis, attack him like we planned–the rest of you run for it as soon as I say.”

“Got it,” Mean answered back. “Dark: I’ll take you with me. If you can grab Darrow I’ll pull him along too.”

“Oh man,” Darrow repeated to himself, stepping closer to Dark as he watched Pinada approach. “Oh man, oh man–”

The cube jerked to an abrupt stop as it reached the road, and Pinada braced himself against the front plate with his arm.

“How’d it go guys?” Pinada announced. The cube lowered to the road with a clack. At the top of each corner four new spires were affixed: with objects and clothing impaled upon them.

“You monster–” Tome uttered, seeing King’s crown jammed through one of the spines. Above it, Kello’s umbrella hung in tatters along with a bit of Trisk’s sweater.

“Hm? Did you guys sort it out?” Pinada pressed. He rubbed his hands together. “Did you save the world? I left you a really good clue.”

“Mean, go–!” Tome shouted, and she knelt to spring: spinning toward the direction of the cave.

“Where are you going, Mean?” Pinada asked, pointing upward. “Don’t you want to see your dad?”

“What!?” Mean squealed, stumbling, catching herself. She brushed her hair back and turned: Pinada was pointing at a tatty headband hanging from his spire. A shoe dangled next to it.

“I was just speaking with Hatchel, you know,” Pinada said. “He seems worried. Hasn’t seen you in a week.”

“What did you do to him!?” Mean shouted. Pinada’s case trembled and he braced himself.

“Nothing–yet,” Pinada replied, calming the tremors with a gesture. “It’s just that I’ve been waiting here for so long. And since you all love games so much I thought we’d play another.”

He tipped his head off toward the site far down the road, where the vehicles were kicking up clouds of dust.

“I was here when that city fell,” he began. “And there was a person falling with it. He was going to get killed! Can you believe that? I  can’t let that happen. I am the hero, Pinada.”

“A person?” Darrow gasped, looking at Dark. “Who was left up there? Dhaston?”

“Mackaba,” Mean said.

Pinada snapped his fingers. “Yes–that’s who it was! Officer Mackaba with the something something. He wanted revenge for some silly thing so I spent these boring weeks teaching him to–ooh–get back at people. Untrustworthy authority figures! Imagine that.

“Right now he has your leaders held hostage up on that cliff. He’s going to force them to bomb the buildings from the cliff. It’s not a whole world, but it’ll make sure Hatchel and Trisk’s family are killed, at least. Yes, I followed you around after I left that diner.”

“So you want us to choose,” Tome stated. Pinada slid over to him.

“Yes,” he said. “If you choose to stop Mackaba I’ll immediately head back to the cave. I infected myself with the completed time virus as soon as I saw it had worked, and I’ll spend my last hour here dismantling everything. However, if you choose to go to the cave, I’ll spend that time helping Mackaba demolish your ‘Jesice’ country instead.” He flipped his palms up, shifting them as if on a scale. “I’m just so curious: You were happy to live on this world when it was empty; you were happy to leave your home country behind. You don’t seem to value them any more than I do, so I was wondering which you’d pick.”

“Mean,” Dark said. “We need to get to Ley Ledge. It’s the only way we can win this.”

“He didn’t even give us a way to win,” Vornis growled. “This is just another scam.”

“I think you might be right, Vornis,” Tome said. “I’m not playing your games, Pinada.”

Dark inched back toward the gazebo. “Tome, I have a plan, but I can’t say anything with him listening.” Pinada rolled his eyes. “I need you to trust me,” he went on. “I think I know the way through this.”

“You’re sure about that?” Pinada hummed. “Trusting people blindly can get you killed. I think I heard that somewhere.”

Mean grabbed onto Dark’s arm. “Pinada, you never asked for people to trust you,” she shot back. With a scuffle of gravel at her feet, she and Dark dashed to the gazebo.

“I see you’ve made your choice, then,” Pinada called after them, swiveling in the other direction. In a blur Vornis leapt and crashed down onto the top plate: punching one of the spires as he landed. It popped off the case and hit the street, sending a whirl of accessories scattering over the pavement.

“Oh, that’s disgusting; get your feet off me,” Pinada said, jerking his cube back and sending Vornis thumping to the road.

As Mean and Dark stepped into the hex door, Dark told her “We need something from your room at the hotel first.” They vanished with a pop.

“Back, Vornis!” Tome shouted; the beast obeyed. Pinada staggered. The grasses by the road swayed toward the cube and calm was broken by a gravelly crackle. Pinada stood up straight again, his fingers at the side of his case.

“You know you can’t hold me here,” Pinada said, pushing his glasses up with his other hand. “You just wasted your power blowing up that mountain, remember? You’re weak; I’m rested.” The glass in his casing vibrated against the concrete. “Or maybe you do know: I haven’t left you any way out of this.”

 

—–

 

The still of the hotel hall was broken by frantic footsteps. Mean dashed to her room at the end, with Dark following.

“I need your bracelet,” Dark told her. “The one that tracks magic.”

Mean sprinted past the rows of open doors on both sides of the hall. “Yeah, okay,” she said. “It’s been here a week so it should be charged up.” She reached the single door that was closed, stopping to twist the handle. “Why do you need it?”

The two stepped inside. “I need to find something: If Pinada is really sealed off in there he’ll need air to breathe. My suit just takes oxygen from outside and teleports it in. But I don’t think Pinada does that. He’d have to find another source–otherwise he would have been infected by his own virus.”

Mean took long strides into a bedroom. Dark remained in the kitchen, where some plates were sitting with mold-spotted bread. Mean came out again, holding a lens with leather straps fixed to opposite sides. “But it was all over the world,” Mean said, handing the bracelet over. “Dark, you don’t think he’s taking air from Jesice, do you?”

Dark slapped the lens on his wrist. “Ah, could you help me tie it? These gloves–”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mean said. She took the leather in her tiny fingers, looping them around the black material of his armor.

“Thanks,” Dark told her. “And yes, I do think he’s getting it from the cliff somewhere. He could have set it up after we first saw him at the diner. And earlier, during the tournament, Tenny broke into his case. Pinada was coughing. I don’t think he likes the air from this world. But when he was on Jesice– when he opened up his case and shook hands with Tome–he seemed fine.”

Mean tightened the knot with a tug. “But would it still be working?” she wondered. “And wouldn’t that be a hassle to set up? He’d have to send his air-transporting machine back at least five years!”

“You are making this plan seem a bit unlikely, yes,” Dark admitted. “But let’s just say I have more than one. I’d love to explain but–”

“Yeah, let’s just go.”

Again they rushed down the hall, out of the room and back to the hex door.

“We’ll go to Dad’s first, then I can fly you up with me to Ley Ledge. If there’s anything magical that bracelet will find it.”

“I know he’s okay,” Dark said. “And I know you’ll get Mackaba.”

Mean laughed. “Ha! I suppose you would, wouldn’t you?”

They entered the pillars and vanished.

 

—–

 

Mean flew alone above the Ley Ledge plateau. She held her arms tight to her body, shivering; fierce winds whipped over the cliff’s top from the west and down the east side. The currents met rows of turbines that were attached to the sheer rock face, spinning them as they whistled through. Far below ships traversed an ocean. Mean banked away, toward the west edge where large, vertical buildings were affixed to the cliff side with struts. On the ground another city lay beneath a soft blanket of blue haze. She reached the citadel that was above it all, perched on the brink.

The fortress was flying the flags of Jesice: a zig-zagging line bisected by many straight ones from below. The banners were all whipping full in the wind. As Mean drew closer she noticed a faint blur surrounding the building. She touched down, feet-first. Before her was a grid that wrapped around the structure, its lines intersecting to form countless diamonds.

Mean stuck her hand through it, meeting no resistance. She stepped through.

A guard in a muddy-brown uniform was stationed at the side entrance. She was enveloped in a thick gel, her arm frozen where it had reached for the door handle. She strained to twist her head.

“Go. You’ll be stuck,” she told Mean.

“Just hold on; I’ll get him,” the petite girl replied. She tugged the door open and entered; more bodies were suspended in place: some were positioned toward the door in mid-stride, fleeing, while others in uniforms had weapons drawn. These guards were all facing the front of the massive room, where a wall-sized window displayed sky and city. The grid outside marred the view. Mackaba was standing at a pulpit set off in the corner, dressed in a black robe with a yellow sash crossing his chest. His eyes flew wide when he noticed Mean enter.

“You! You again!” he announced, jabbing a wooden gavel in her direction. He nodded over at Lord Ley Lickwolf. “See–she’s the one. She’s the one that ruined your city while you all turned a blind eye.”

Lickwolf was seated and encased in the gel. His bowl haircut bobbed about his scalp. “Lady, I don’t know who you are, but you’d better get out. Unless you want to take part in the most boring filibuster ever.”

Mean walked to the aisle that lead through the fifty-five tiered desks. Nearly every Lord Ley seated at them was frozen: Vail in his white lab coat, Prayler in his pin-striped suit. Hinge was unaffected; he sat in his seat with his hands clasped upon his wide belly. He turned to Mean with his sharp nose and expectant eyes.

“She’s the one always breaking everything,” Mackaba told his audience. “And if you’re going to let her do it–why not let me, right? We’re going to break the support struts, Sandy-Brown. We’re going to drop their city, just like they dropped mine.”

“Don’t call me that,” Mean shot back, feeling a resistance against her body as she walked.

“You cheeky trollop,” Mackaba accused. “Don’t you remember what these people have done? They left us on the other world! They forgot about us! They didn’t even remember. You–!” He left the gavel at the podium and stepped off the stage. He pointed at Lord Ley Tecker. “You didn’t even remember my name.”

Tecker’s grey suit jacket was hung on the back of his chair; his empty holster was strapped over a sweat-stained white shirt. He was twisted around in the gel, watching Mean.

“You’re the woman from the party!” he called out to her. “What are you doing? You need to get out of here!”

Mackaba banged on the nearest desk. “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “You admit it! You were the one with her! In the armor!”

Mean walked through the aisle, stepping to the side of Tecker’s desk. She looked him in the eye, then flinched away. “Tecker, just–just stay there. Mackaba, you need to let these people go. There are things going on that you don’t understand.”

Mackaba chuckled, folding his arms across his yellow sash. “Sorry, that won’t work,” he said. “I’m the one that has help this time.” He narrowed his eyes. “I’ve met someone from the other world: An alien. The last of his kind.”

“The last–” Mean sputtered, laughing. “Mackaba, you are so stupid; he’s using you! And I was trying to tell you about an ‘alien’ back when you were pouting in Hardpan; I’m an alien, for crying out loud!”

As she spat out the last word bits of gel appeared in the air; they coalesced into a blob around her. “Get your crap off me!” she wailed. She writhed and the liquid clung to her dress, growing thicker and darkening.

“I was taught to focus my magic,” Mackaba said. “Spreading the water out in large volumes is a waste. Now it’s thin as air, normally. It’s only when it senses a certain mind pattern that it reacts: turning the space around that person into a concentrated sludge.” He smiled as Mean fought her way forward. She swung her arms in slow arcs, inching toward him.

“Do you want to know what the pattern is that it looks for?” he asked, backing away. “Do you want to know what emotion I picked?”

Mean bared her teeth, kicking her feet against the slime.

“It’s anger,” Mackaba said. He retreated to the large window, and Mean remained encased in the blob. Mackaba snatched the gavel from the judge’s pulpit, directing it at the Lords Ley. “Anger is the only thing I can count on from you people. It’s the only thing others have ever shown me.”

“Mackaba, just let us out!” Mean protested as her brown hair swished about her face. “You don’t know what’s been going on; there are people in trouble; I don’t have time for this!”

“Oh, of course you don’t,” Mackaba whined, tipping back his head. “You just barge in, do your damage and leave. You don’t even stop to think what I’ve had to go through. No one does. All my life I’ve been at the mercy of uncaring brutes like you.”

Mean ceased with her struggle, dragging her arms to her sides, staring him down. Mackaba sneered, pacing forward. He lifted a foot onto one of the desks and leaned on it.

“Show me,” he said. “Show each other. We’re just all angry, seething animals, aren’t we?”

“We aren’t,” Mean replied. “Not even you can be angry all the time.”

“Of course I am,” Mackaba growled. “It’s what drove me to do this. Otherwise I’d still be sitting in that ruin you made.”

“You couldn’t have always been,” Mean went on. “When you”–she paused, swallowing–”when you poisoned me at the hotel. You said you were going to kill me. I thought I would die.” Mackaba shifted back, letting his leg drop from the desk. He glanced at one of the frozen guards near the back.

“But you left me alive. And you didn’t try to find me again; you knew it was wrong.” She pressed her face forward and her hair swirled back. “I’m sorry things turned out this way. When this is over–when there’s time–I want to explain things to you. And maybe you can even tell me your side of the story.”

The gel encasing her faded into the air, leaving a slick sheen on her skin. Mackaba staggered back.

“I’m not angry,” Mean said, settling to the floor.

“You’re–you’re not?” Mackaba gasped.

“No,” Mean replied. She stared ahead with half-open eyes, setting her lips straight. “It’s like Trisk. I need to be like Trisk.” She dipped, sprung, and flew forward.

“Who is Trisk!?” Mackaba gasped as Mean tackled him. They both slammed to the floor: shaking the base of the judge’s pulpit. With two tiny fists Mean grabbed the sash that Mackaba wore; she planted a foot on his chest. With her eyes blank she tugged the sash up. A quick tear ended it: the fabric ripped from his shoulder. Volumes of odd water splashed free from the people encased. She hovered, landed, and threw the sash down to the floor. On the upturned side the word ‘HILO’ could be seen. Glittering, reddish fibers spilled out from the two frayed edges.

A uniformed guard from the side of the room bolted to the stage and trained his pistol on Mackaba. Others thundered forward, some calling in support with radios and others attending to the Lords Ley that had been affected by the gel.

“Okay, I give up,” Mackaba told them. He rolled onto his stomach, spreading his arms from his body.

Mean let out a sharp sigh, wobbled, and she fell into an empty seat.

“Good show!” Lord Ley Hinge said, standing and waddling through the pools of water on the carpet. Lord Ley Tecker went to Mean.

“How did you do that?” he asked, sweeping his wet, shoulder-length hair back. “How did you break his spell?”

Mean hesitated, then spoke. “A friend taught me how; it’s like going to different floors of a tower.”

“But it looked like you flew!” Tecker said. “Was that sash magic!? There’s so much about that world we don’t understand. It must be amazing.”

Mean let out a chuckle. “It is. It can be.” She stood up, flatted out her sundress, and stretched. “Yeah, it can be. Sorry, I need to go now. There really is a bigger problem than this.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Tecker asked. He followed her to the door as she walked back through the aisle. “That person was going to make us drop the city; they probably want to thank you.” He turned an eye back, spying one of the officers heading toward them. “Or ask how you just suddenly appeared at the seat of Jesian government during a crisis. They might possibly want to know that.”

“Possibly,” Mean laughed. “Can you keep them busy while I leave? We might need some help near the Hardpan site too. An ambulance or something.”

“Right,” Tecker affirmed. “I wish I knew what was going on, but–”

“Miss, we need to ask you some questions,” the officer hurrying behind them announced. Mean and Tecker reached the exit, where the previously-frozen guard nodded. Odd water soaked the floor and Tecker took a crooked step, slipped to the side, crashed into the wall, and dropped into the wet carpet.

“Lord Ley!” the officers both said at once, hurrying over and helping him up.

“Sorry, I fall down a lot,” Tecker told them. The officer that had been pursuing them gave a hurried salute and turned back to the exit. He stepped past the open door, seeing nothing but a wind-swept plateau.

“Where is she?” he asked.

DRAFT END

Choice Edits:

“Coffins,” Mean said.

I thought I could use coffins to illustrate the whole “you’re the one in the box” line that Pinada says.

Should I take this further? I could go back to the first time Mean’s group arrives at these gazebos and add in more people. I could have some painters or construction people working on the building. Someone gardening to keep the lawn and trees trimmed. Then, when everyone shows up after the disaster, they see the coffins sitting in the places where those people were.

The third draft is a good time to add in little details that don’t really impact the plot.

“And yes, I do think he’s getting it from the cliff somewhere. He could have set it up after we first saw him at the diner. And earlier, during the tournament, Tenny broke into his case. Pinada was coughing. I don’t think he likes the air from this world. But when he was on Jesice– when he opened up his case and shook hands with Tome–he seemed fine.”

Here Dark suggests they find Pinada’s air supply. It’s a good thing Dark’s been encased in armor this whole time and had a need for teleporting in oxygen: otherwise all these giant leaps in reasoning would be totally convoluted and not believable at all!

The currents met rows of turbines that were attached to the sheer rock face, spinning them as they whistled through.

See, aren’t you glad I took the effort to describe all this travel time? Now you get to learn about how the cliff-side city gets its power! Wind energy is very efficient and affordable.

Lickwolf was seated and encased in the gel. His bowl haircut bobbed about his scalp.

I added specific Lords Ley to this chapter that had been mentioned in the first book. They could be important in later stories, so I need to keep bringing them up now and then. Or maybe–since I went though all the trouble of thinking up names and personalities the first time–I want to get as much use out of them that I can. Who knows!

“She’s the one always breaking everything,” Mackaba told his audience. “And if you’re going to let her do it–why not let me, right? We’re going to break the support struts, Sandy-Brown. We’re going to drop their city, just like they dropped mine.”

I mentioned two chapters ago that it makes more sense for a villain to monologue when he has a captive audience. It’s not as if Mackaba needs one: he rants even when nobody’s around.

Mean let out a chuckle. “It is. It can be.” She stood up, flatted out her sundress, and stretched. “Yeah, it can be. Sorry, I need to go now.”

I’m glad I decided to let Mean have a restful, light-hearted moment with Tecker instead of the angry glare from the first draft. I have no idea what was I thinking, having her get angry with him IMMEDIATELY after I showed that she was learning to control her emotions like Trisk did.

Next time–!

Oh man I really do need the light-hearted moment to balance out what happens next. It’s a scene I’ve been waiting for. Well, that’s like every chapter at this point, but still!

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