It’s December again! That means it’s time for the holidays! Who has time for writing stories? After all, I have too many presents to beg for. And it takes forever to decorate my apartment with the two thousand paper snowflakes I collected from children while working at the daycare.
No, what am I thinking!? I must find time to write! I MUST! But I need some extra motivation this time of year. And you know what motivates me to write? Besides the endless fame and millions of fans, that is. Yes, that’s right! I need to look at other stories for inspiration! Fiction! For instance, I just went through my comic collection again. There’s noting like watching Superman “wrassle Metallo for the umpteenth time” to get the creative vibes going.
Not wanting to gorge myself on one medium, I went to see a film, too. It was the third part of the Hunger Games trilogy. And you want to know what I thought of it? Are you ready for my own in-depth Mockingjay: Part 1 review?
It was tragic: My poor friend Matt had never read the books. He had no idea what was coming. He thought there would be a spectacular war. He thought “Okay, this time for SURE they’re starting the revolution.”
Surprise! The warring post-apocolyptic nations spend the entire time in a duel over who has the best television commercials! Gasp in wonder and be amazed. Society may be in ruins but at least all the green screens and special effects guys survived. You thought the arena death games from the other books were intense? Pfffft. Hang on to your seat, boys; Katniss and Peeta are going to be trying on so many outfits.
Yeah, it’s such a crock. But let me get back to my point: I can relate to what the characters went through. In the film, Katniss needed a reason to fight the Capitol. She needed to know who the enemy was. So the leaders of District 13 took her to the ruins of her home town. It was there that Katniss wept in an overdramatic fashion at the destruction of her home. As she did; so shall I! I will lament the wreck of the story I witnessed! And it will motivate me to fight. For literature. So here I go. ::clears throat::
NO! OH GOSH NO! I will do better! I MUST!!!
::falls on his knees atop a pile of skeletons:: I will write an awesome story! I will even wear a body armor designed by a dead guy if I have to! I will be moved to accomplish great things, even more great than a crater full of roses! FOR ABANDONMENT PARTY!
14 – Flawed Designs
Darrow was slouched down on the leather couch, watching the monitor along with the others inside Clance’s casino. Two sword fighters clashed on the screen.
“I think I’ve seen this one before,” Darrow said.
“Aren’t you from another world?” the TV-watching man asked. “How have you seen it?”
Darrow shrugged. “It seems like I have. Maybe I’ve just seen this story done better.”
The TV-watching man slapped his plush armrest. “You have not seen this done better; this film is classic.”
Darrow hummed with objection as Clance rounded the corner and stepped into the darkened room. The slot machines and games in the casino were dimming again, and Clance’s tall form blocked many of the flashing lights from view. Darrow cringed, sinking further back into the seat.
“Are you having trouble with the new guest?” Clance asked the room.
“Ah, shoot, sorry, I hadn’t noticed,” the TV-watching man said. “We were just discussing something and I forgot to tell him.”
“Wait,” Clance interrupted. He twirled his sharp hairpin along his fingers, squinting through the dark at Darrow. “Who is this? Where’s the man in the orange clothes?”
Bouncer Steve leaned around the cabinet of the arcade game he was playing. “Hey, I’m sorry; that guy got out.”
“He left?” Clance asked. “On his own? He was in jail when I rescued him; why would he leave?”
“I know, right?” Darrow said. “This place is great! You’ve got games, shows, drinks–“
“So who are you, then?” Clance asked. The hairpin snapped still in his grip. “Which planet are you from?”
Darrow looked away from the tall man’s eyes. “Ah, I don’t know?” He grinned back at Clance with a toothy smile.
Clance brought the hairpin up against his puckered lips. “You must be from Cougo’s,” he sighed. “Alright, that’s fine. Do you happen to know any magic?”
Darrow relaxed. “Of course I do! Do you want to see it?”
“Yes, that’s all I’ll require of you while you’re here,” Clance said. “The power will go out if you don’t.”
“Then be amazed,” Darrow warned. He positioned his hand above the cup-shaped depression in the armrest of the couch. With a snap of his fingers a chipped mug appeared in the cup holder. There was a flare as the entire casino lit up to full brightness again. Clance twisted to see the games behind him blinking with color again.
“Astounding,” he uttered.
“You know it,” Darrow said, taking the cup. “Bottoms up.”
Clance chewed on the end of the hairpin. “It’s just that I’ve never seen that before. You somehow managed to empty all the magic from your mind with just one spell. That is the most inefficient display I have ever seen.”
“Thanks,” Darrow said.
Clance nodded. “Well, yes, in this case it’s just what I need. Keep up the good work!”
Darrow rose his mug as Clance took his leave, weaving through the aisles of slot machines to a barred gate. He jabbed at it with his winged hairpin and the steel bars parted to let him through. The gates closed behind him and he turned three corners in the corridor beyond, walking until he reached a large room. The walls were lined with memorabilia all depicting the same image: that of the woman with her hair woven in the shape of a crown. They covered every space, from tiny dolls to life-size mannequins, to heavy signs with glowing neon lights. Clance sat at a table with a monitor framed by metallic figurines of the woman. He closed his eyes, gripping the hairpin.
“My avatar has spread its influence across half of the world now,” Clance rang.
King stared out the slanted window of the Imperial Pyramid: embers were glowing in the dead trunks on the hills. The thick smoke had blurred the sky into a black haze.
“Excellent work, Clance,” Elder Sain praised. He stood behind King in the darkened room. “What of that army you mentioned before?”
“Oh they got stuck in a forest,” Clance told him. “Their vehicles gave out after a few miles. They’re all on foot now. The others from the north are still headed here too.”
“How long until they reach us?” Elder Sain asked. King blinked as something glinted on the plains below the window.
“A week, and that’s generous,” Clance chuckled. “They had no idea we were coming.”
“We should be long done by then,” Elder said. King tipped closer to the window. The grass beneath the pyramid was brightening as the edge of a shadow retreated toward the hills.
“Tell Cougo that I want to bring the Nameless out here again,” Elder Sain said. “After it’s repaired, of course. I want to practice global travel–“ He cut himself off, glancing out the window. The sun was peeking through gaps in the smoke; the thick haze was swirling and vanishing across the horizon. The lights inside the pyramid hummed on.
“Clance, something unusual is happening,” Elder said. He wavered to the side as the pyramid lurched into a slow spin. King was still, staring out as the scenery scrolled past the window. “Clance, I need you to focus back on my location; the magic is returning somehow.”
“Oh?” Clance asked. “They must have some reserves.”
“Wonderful,” Elder sighed. “Can you transfer it to the batteries, please?”
“I have,” Clance told him. The lights in the room dimmed and the rotation of the pyramid ceased. King shuffled in his spot.
“And get rid any that went into him, too,” Elder said.
“I did,” Clance assured. “I just don’t know how they managed to hide some from me.”
Elder Sain tilted his head, checking the far edge of the gear wheel affixed to his back. “It was probably a natural occurrence,” he said. “We were unable to study how magic is distributed here–“
The pyramid lurched; platters and cups slid from the tables and crashed to the floor. The light fixtures overhead flared bright and King was tossed to the floor. Elder Sain caught himself.
“Clance!” he demanded. “What are you doing!? Contain it!”
“I told you I did!” Clance said. “I don’t know where it’s coming from!”
“The batteries,” Elder muttered. He braced himself as the pyramid floor jolted. “Check the batteries, Clance!”
“That can’t be it!” Clance argued. “I’m the only one that can transfer power between them!”
“Do it anyway!” Elder demanded. Dark streaks were forming in the sky outside, where the smoke was gathering into columns. The sunlight was filtering through in long cracks.
“Impossible,” Clance spoke again. “There’s someone up there! There’s someone on the roof!”
King pushed himself up from the floor. “That’s where you put them?” he said.
“Someone?” Elder Sain asked. “You’re not just seeing us? Who is it? How did they get there?”
“I’m checking the energy,” Clance went on. “I’ll know in a minute.”
“You’re kidding me,” King said. He began to chuckle. “Now, of all times; you’re kidding me.”
Elder Sain paced over to King. The lights in the room pulsed.
“This can’t be right!” Clance stammered. “There’s no sign of teleport–no signature of altered space!”
“Stop panicking,” Elder Sain stated. “Where does their trail lead from?”
“I don’t know; I don’t know,” Clance replied. “The heat from their body flows in a path on the roof; it starts and ends there!”
King covered his mouth and began to laugh.
“People just don’t appear out of nothing,” Elder Sain said. “They must have masked their presence somehow; snuck onto the roof–“
“Elder, the batteries!” Clance cried. “They’ve been physically breached!”
“What? How!?” Elder said.
“They’ve been torn open!” Clance replied.
“By what!? How well is this person armed!?”
“I’m sorry; I don’t see any weapons at all!” Clance croaked. “I don’t know what’s happening! All the magic–it’s all leaking out!”
King guffawed into his hands. Elder Sain stooped down and lifted him to his feet by the collar.
“What do you know about this!?” he demanded. “Who is attacking us!?”
King coughed. His eyes were tearing up. “What are you asking me for?” he laughed. “You’re the one with the technology of seven worlds! I’m just some–“
Elder Sain began walking down the hall, pulling King along at his side.
“You don’t seem in such a good mood,” King said as he was dragged to the hex door at the end of the path. “I think you need to–what was it?–appreciate the unexpected!”
Elder Sain took them both through the door. With a pop they appeared at a corner of the pyramid’s roof. From there six large globes could be seen: all held aloft by metallic tripods, all arranged at different spots. One’s long struts had flattened the plants and flowers next to Darrow’s lawn chair, and another stood above Donzel’s overturned monument. Elder Sain walked from the hex door with King in tow. He followed the railing, checking the sides of the globes as he went. An intricate wiring was wrapped around them, folding and twisting along the curved surfaces. Elder halted, seeing a large gash carved out of the bottom of one of the globes: a long swipe leaving frayed wiring and an oozing, orange liquid.
“No; what happened?” he cried. He looked to another, seeing another dripping gash. A woman looked up from Donzel’s monument. She had been struggling to lift it upright again.
“Dark?” she uttered, smiling. She stood. With long fingers she pushed back her long, black hair. A mandala design marked her sweater. “No, you’re not Dark.”
“Trisk! You made it!” King exclaimed. Trisk frowned, seeing Elder Sain’s grip on his collar.
“I am Elder Sain,” he spat at her. “Now tell me how you’ve done this.”
“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” King shouted over to Trisk. “He’s from another world; they just got here!”
“That is why you’re going to tell me,” Elder Sain said. He dropped King and marched between the batteries toward where Trisk was standing.
“Where’s Pinada?” Trisk shouted back.
“They got him!” King laughed. “We all came back! His virus didn’t work! Mean and the rest–they were all waiting for you here on this roof!”
Trisk nodded. “That’s good,” she admitted with a smile. Elder Sain reached her. He snatched her by the arm.
“That’s good!?” he repeated. “That’s good!? You ruin my batteries, you destroy everything that I’ve done–“
Trisk hooked her fingers and swatted Elder Sain in the head. There was a hiss as her nails dug into his helmet; the eyes behind the opaque visor went wide.
“Elder Sain!” Clance squealed.
Sain stumbled backward, his heavy boots clanging against Donzel’s fallen sword. Three horizontal slashes scarred the front of the visor and he covered the gaps with his arm, muttering unintelligible curses.
“I always wondered if that would work on Dark’s suit,” Trisk hummed. She stepped between the tripods and approached King. “Where is everyone? What’s going on here?”
King sniffed and gave Sain a resolute nod. “They’re from Arsiling; it’s where Hellzoo and Templetine are from. I don’t know if it’s another planet or what. They came on a ship. Some kind of hex door. It’s still open nearby.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I sent Dark, Darrow, and Tenny through. They think they kidnapped Mean.”
Sain was peeling his helmet into halves: the material flexed, yielding to rest at his neckline. Bloody scratches marred the brown skin on his nose and upper lip. He licked at it with his tongue.
“Clance, get your avatar over here.”
A sharp breeze hit the roof. The sky was filled with long, twirling ribbons of cloud. The dark smoke was gathering there, and the light from the sun was shining through the gaps between the twisted funnels.
“Those three, huh?” Trisk said. “Where’s Vornis?”
“No idea,” King admitted. “Do you want me to take you out of here? The one in the armor is talking to someone that can steal magic. It was stored in those containers you broke, but he may be able to do it again.”
“I’ll take care of the armored guy,” Trisk said. “What does he do?”
King shrugged. “I haven’t seen him do anything odd.”
Elder Sain was standing near the monument for Trisk now. He reached into the neck of the armor and pulled a white cloth from inside. He dabbed at the blood on his nose and lips. His hair, free from the confines of the helmet, was woven in linear rows that rounded his skull. As he finished wiping his wounds an object glided to the roof, hovering near him. It was a massive needle with a twin wing design on the top. He tossed the cloth down. Facing Trisk, he reached up to touch the top tooth on the gear that was hitched to his back.
The needle responded, zipping above Elder Sain’s head.
“That giant pin is one of them?” Trisk wondered. She did not see the vertical mass that spread out from Sain’s skull. Thin as paper, it bisected Trisk between her eyes, along with Sain, the needle, and the entire pyramid. It stretched up toward the twisting clouds in the sky and widened to reach the surrounding hills. Its color became a deep green.
“Trisk! Move!” King cried. Elder Sain stepped to one side of the plane; Trisk heard King’s warning and leapt.
A loud snap sliced the entire building from one half to the other; from rail to rail and from the top of the roof to the point at the base. Trisk tumbled at King as the two sides fell away from each other; the roof tilted toward the ground, sending the batteries and their tripods toppling. Elder Sain stood, held to the floor by his boots. Clance’s needle zipped up higher into the air.
“King!” Trisk shouted. A clanging din resounded from the cut in the building as everything inside was overturned. She rolled over the plants in the garden, clawing at the soil; fighting for grip. With a groan she hung fast. Donzel’s sword swished past her, the blue vein glinting as it slid along the incline. King was slipping to the brink, where the railing now offered a view of the river.
“King!” Trisk called again, reaching out her free hand. He saw her, flicked his finger, and vanished beneath a hexagonal array. With a pop he reappeared above Trisk and clasped her arm. She strained to hold him as the roof jolted still. With a whine it began to raise level again.
“I programmed–“ King began, panting, “I programmed this place to repair itself. In case–in case of emergencies.”
Trisk was looking up at the sky. With a grumble she flung King away. He yelped, his eyes wide and his plump arm scratching at the roof. As he slid down the incline Clance’s needle skewered the spot where he had been, splitting a leafy plant in two and sinking deep into the soil.
King’s heel caught solid ground as the pyramid halves lifted to meet each other again. Trisk released her hold and leapt up. As King skidded still Trisk whirled to swipe at Clance’s needle.
It was gone, lifting into the air to hover once more. The pyramid boomed as the two halves became whole.
“King, you okay?” Trisk shouted over.
“Don’t worry about me; just get him!” King said. The roof was clear of the batteries now, leaving only the ruined gardens and a few toppled tripods. The stone monuments for Donzel and Caldera had slid to the far edge.
“Clance, target the woman!” Elder Sain declared. He tapped the circular rim on the gear again, touching a tooth above his left shoulder. Clance’s needle responded, zipping through the air to position itself at a relative spot. The green mass spread from Elder Sain, bisecting his head, King’s, and the needle with a wide plane tilted at a shallow angle.
King ducked to avoid it and Elder Sain did as well; immediately tapping the gear tooth at the side of his waist. As the plane snapped the corner of the pyramid loose, a second one formed: spread flat across the roof, intersecting everyone’s knees.
“I hope you can all keep this up,” Sain laughed as Clance’s needle weaved through the sky.
“Just fight me yourself!” Trisk shouted. She flattened herself below the green film, pressing her face to the roof and checking to see King do the same.
“Ha!” Sain uttered, hopping as the plane sliced off the entire railing that lined the roof along with the covered stairwell. Fresh dust arose from the surrounding hills.
Trisk rolled face up to see Clance’s needle poised above her.
It fell in a blink, stabbing her square in the stomach with the pointed tip. The twin wings on the end twirled as it retracted and jabbed at her body in rapid succession. Her limbs flailed each time she was struck.
“Elder, something’s wrong,” Clance rang out. The needle pulled away. Trisk’s breath was heavy and her sweater was torn, yet she remained unharmed from the assault.
“No; this can’t be right,” Elder Sain said. He stepped forward to look. The severed corner of the pyramid lifted into view behind him and locked into place. “She’s a normal human; this can’t be right.”
Trisk rose, her legs shaking. Her eyes were wet and her teeth bared.
“I didn’t faint,” she panted out. She coughed, doubled over, and laughed at the ground. Hooking her fingers, she carved a quick X on the floor.
She wobbled, caught herself, and straightened up. “There really is a lot of magic here,” she shouted over to King. “These guys don’t know how stupid that was.”
Clance’s needle thrust at her again; she dodged to let it pass. The sun glinted on the long edge of the needle as it wound up and swung sideways: Trisk took the blow on her ribs and clamped her arm down upon it.
“I know you silly things can be killed,” she said, raising her other arm and bringing it down on the avatar with a chop. Clance shrieked and the needle jerked away; it slid out from Trisk’s grip as she hacked out a messy slash on its surface. Clance retreated to where Elder Sain stood. Footfalls rapped on the roof as Trisk followed.
“Don’t retreat; keep her away from me!” Sain commanded.
The needle bobbed and twirled. “Yes,” came the voice. As Trisk neared Sain the winged end of the avatar arced through the air with a swoosh, catching Trisk in the stomach.
“King, help!” she coughed out as her feet left the ground and her body was punted backward.
Elder Sain saw a flash and Trisk vanished as she reached the peak of her flight. A thump sounded behind him. He spun: the massive gear wheel collided with Trisk as he turned to see her charging at him. She reached for him, tearing out a spoke from the wheel as she slipped. Sain sent out a new plane through him, King, and Trisk: a vertical bisection of the pyramid this time. He stood still as the green color darkened. Trisk rolled one way; he the other.
“Clance, we’re ending this,” Elder Sain uttered. “Full straight.” The building snapped in two as the plane darkened and vanished. Trisk and King dropped from view on their half as he traversed his side of the tilting roof with steady steps. The severed railing and stairwell slid loose as the roof tipped, and the remaining tripods bounced over the side with no restraint to hold them. The whirlwinds of smoke continued to twirl in the sky, and Sain watched as the tilt brought to view the large shadow of the pyramid on the river.
He touched the harness at his chest and it fell loose. Shifting his shoulders, the gear slid off. Clance’s needle flew out from the roof and Elder Sain hurled the gear after him, over the edge. The building jarred and the two halves began to maneuver back into place.
Elder Sain marched over to Trisk’s monument at the edge of the split, and the sides of his helmet took shape again to frame his head. They did not close shut and the swipes from Trisk’s blow were still present. Clattering came from the severed floors below as they rose level again. Elder Sain stuck close to the large obelisk, searching for Trisk as the roof clamped together. She was at a far corner with King, helping him to his feet.
“I’m sorry I have to kill both of you,” Sain called out. “You do seem rather unique.” He sniffed. “Clance, now.”
With a whoosh the needle buzzed the roof of the pyramid and thirty-seven planes materialized all at once. They intersected the building at angles that followed Clance’s flight, forming an hourglass shape that both fanned across the sky and encompassed the pyramid and the grounds below.
Sain took hold of the two sides of his helmet and snapped them together. Through the gaps in the visor he saw Trisk’s clothes drop to the ground. He blinked; the green haze from the planes was darkening. Trisk appeared behind him and sunk her fingers into his back. He screamed through the visor; he covered the openings with his hands.
“You’ll die too,” he croaked out.
Trisk rose her bare arm and aimed at his neck.
There was a yellow flash and she swished through empty space.
“No!” she bellowed, seeing King standing next to her on a riverbank. “I had him! What did you do that for!?”
“Did you see?” King said. He pointed Trisk across the fields, stamped flat by Enpo and cratered from bombs. There the pyramid was dropping to the earth, sliced into long, triangular pieces. The blue sky shone through the cuts while debris and furniture spilled out from inside the many floors. King winced as the ground shook from the impacts. Clouds of dust bellowed out from the rubble, drifting across the fields and river. Trisk folded her arms across her naked body.
“I could have survived that. I’m going back.”
“You’re still as stubborn as you were during my fair,” King groused. “But I didn’t watch everyone wait for you just to see you die as soon as you came back.”
“But with all that magic I could switch between arts!” Trisk argued. “I’ll never get this chance again!”
King kept his eyes on the ruined pyramid. The dust from the collapse was drifting up into the funnels of smoke.
“You already ruined their plan,” King said. “Didn’t you hear me say that Mean and the rest of your friends were trapped on their world? I can get them back here but I need you to go through and give them something.”
A dazzling array of light formed a hexagon at his feet. In a flash a thick robe settled to the ground. With a plop a gaudy jeweled ring followed.
“The ring is a spacial pattern sensor,” King explained. “Wear that and you can get back here. Just twist the gem clockwise.” He showed off a matching ring on his finger.
“Fine,” Trisk said. She knelt to put on the ring and robe. “How do I get there?”
King gestured behind them at two massive stone arms that reached toward the maelstrom in the sky.
“You can’t see it, but it’s between those two pillars: a hall that leads to their planet. Well, it’s a bit more advanced than the one I made–“
“So I just walk through?” Trisk asked.
“I believe so,” King said. “And if it makes you happy, this is probably far more dangerous than going back to slug it out with their leader again.”
Trisk swept her long, black hair out from beneath the robe’s collar.
“Alright–I’m going. I’ll try to come back a bit sooner this time.”
Super-quick First Draft Notes:
– I almost forgot to put in the little scene with Darrow at the start. Because nothing gets you pumped up for a chapter more than him. I still haven’t named the guy that’s always watching TV in Clance’s casino, though. Should I use the Suzanne Collins method of naming in honor of the new Hunger Games film? Let’s see, most of the people at the Capitol are Roman-themed. And the guys from the lower districts were named after grass, I think. Zounds! That’s it: Nero Bluegrass! Amazing.
– I wasn’t sure how to handle Trisk’s re-appearance at first. I thought about doing it from her point of view––I’d start by recreating the scene from the previous book with Pinada, then I’d have her suddenly appear on the roof months later. I’d go from there until Elder Sain shows up.
But let’s get real: the way it is now is so much cooler. I think it’s more fun to watch the antagonist’s plan fall apart from their point of view––without knowing how it’s happening at first.
Well, I suppose you COULD have guessed what would happen. If you expected Trisk to come back that is. But I purposely hid the information that the batteries were on the roof. And you SHOULD have been misdirected to believe that it might be Vornis and his approaching army of doggie buddies. Even if you did figure it out––who cares! It’s awesome anyway.
– I also need to work on the specific terms for all the crap happening here. Should it be Clance’s needle? Or should it just be “the avatar?” Should Elder Sain’s attack be a “plane?” Or a two-dimensional sheet that separates physical objects in a total divide?
– Speaking of Elder Sain’s special move: Matt, were you able to understand what was happening? I’m just curious since I didn’t have anyone explain it. Ha! What am I thinking! Of course you were able to figure out that in order to form the “plane” Elder Sain needs three foci. Namely, the minds of three people. Then the plane spreads out from there, using the positions of their heads at the time of activation to determine how it will be oriented.
Yeah, totally. Such obvious mechanics! And since I don’t have to explain it that leaves me plenty of space in the chapter to describe things exploding, falling, and being sliced into pieces!