Now this one is a long chapter. And not because of some epic, singular, event–no; it’s because there are still so many groups of characters out there! What do I do with them? How do I make them all work for the story? First draft isn’t the time to figure that out! I just have to shove it all in.
And after all this there are STILL characters that aren’t where they need to be. Now is this a problem? No. I’ll figure out the correct pacing the next time around. It will be super-fun. I can cut characters; I can ‘consolidate’ events. But for now––enjoy! It may be a disorganized mess, but it’s still entertaining! Right, Pascal from Tales of Graces?
17 – Convergence
A few of the slot machines were firing up again; the lights in the casino wavered. Clance’s large body was splayed on the floor.
“He’ll understand,” Bouncer Steve told himself. “I stop fights; it’s what I do. Doesn’t matter who’s involved.”
“You sure stopped it,” Darrow told Steve. He stepped around Clance’s legs, moving over to where Trisk was. He snorted at the smell of static and singed hair.
“Nice to see you too,” Trisk said, sitting up. She reached for him with her arm.
“Trisk, you came back!” Darrow expressed. He took Trisk’s arm, helped her stand, and hugged her tight.
“Careful,” she instructed. “It hurts in a few places.”
Darrow let go of her robe, smiling. Mean edged past them, along the aisles of slot machines. The gate to the inner halls was broken with all the bars flexing outward; Dark was helping Jelk along as they walked through.
“They got him,” Mean said. “He’s knocked out.”
“Great, let’s split,” Jelk moaned. He gagged. “Ugh, I think I know who ate all those crackers.”
Dark flinched as a sharp crash sounded from the ceiling: the skylight had broken and a large object was dropping through the hole. Jagged shards of glass plinked on the machines and the black shape smacked down somewhere near the front doors.
“Great–now what?” Mean sighed.
“Not sure,” Dark told her. He nodded down the aisle at Trisk and Darrow. “We’ll meet you at the doors,” he called over.
Jelk steadied himself and followed Dark and Mean along the wall. They hurried past a mural depicting the character with the dented forehead. He was toying with dice and eyeing the lady with the winged hairpins; she smirked back at him, dribbling coins from her hand. Mean and the rest reached the fountain where the woman’s statue was erected. There in the basin lay a large suit of armor.
“Dark,” Mean uttered. She came to a halt. “That looks like the armor you wore.”
“But it’s huge,” Dark said. “We should get out of here; someone could be inside.”
A seam split the helmet’s blank visor: spreading down through the chest piece along the front and the back. The two halves of the suit curled away from each other. A woman’s head poked out of it. Her hair was rusty red. She had a circle strapped to one eye.
“Dark! It’s her! It’s Hellzoo!” Mean shouted.
“Well, she’s not taking you away again,” Dark assured her. Shirka rolled out of the armor. She sat up on the edge of the fountain, her stocky leg poking through the slit in her dress.
“You enjoying your time here?” she laughed. “Having some fun with Clance and his games?” The dark suit stood up on its own. The two upper halves remained curled apart. Dark stood in front of Mean. Jelk slinked behind her. “I’m not here for you,” Shirka went on. “I let you go so you could see what it’s like here, remember? You’ll come back to me on your own.” She bobbed her shoulder and turned to strut toward the theater. The suit followed. As they reached the end of the aisle Darrow and Trisk turned the corner.
“Whoa, who’s this?” Trisk asked.
“I have no clue!” Darrow said. “That looks like Dark’s armor.”
“I have no idea who you are either,” Shirka said. She spied Clance, still prone near the theater entry. “Ooh, there you are,” she cooed. Sweeping past Trisk and Darrow, she lead the suit over. Steve was at his side. Bluegrass was peering at them from behind the couch.
“Who are you?” Steve asked. “What do you want with him?”
“I’m going to take him to be with his siblings,” Shirka said. She intertwined her fingers and pressed them against her cheek. “We’ll all be together again–isn’t that nice?” With a step to the side she let the suit through. It loomed over Clance.
“So it was you!” he said. His eyes snapped open and he thrust out a finger; the suit flipped backwards with a hollow thud. It landed front-down, skidding across the carpeted floor.
“Clance, you sneaky bear,” Shika said. “You weren’t dead at all.”
The ground reverberated and Clance was bounced to his feet. He kept his finger extended. “You’re the reason I can’t call the others,” he spat. “Did you put them back in the armor?”
“They’re just waiting on you,” Shirka affirmed. “The one’s that didn’t try to resist, anyway.”
“You were all in on this!” Clance accused. Bluegrass yelped as the couch was overturned. The wall monitor was dented inward along with the wall. Slot machines and arcade cabinets were flipped: sparks trailing from their bases as they crashed against the front doors in a jumbled row.
“Clance, that temper,” Shirka said. She scooped up her hat from the ground. “What would she think if she saw you like this?” Her eyes darted back to the fountain of the woman with the hair styled like a crown. Darrow and Trisk had met Dark, Jelk, and Mean there.
“So, back to the roof?” Jelk suggested.
Everyone nodded. Clance swept his arm and the building shook; blackjack tables overturned and the skylights cracked and shattered. Shirka was running back to the armor. Light fixtures exploded above her head; she donned her hat as glass rained upon her. She dove into the hollow suit and it closed tight.
Dark sheltered Mean beneath his poncho as bits of debris flew through the air. Trisk tried her best to step her bare feet around shards of glass. There was a crack as the large suit of armor soared over Darrow’s head. He yelped as it crunched into the mural and dented the wall.
“Clance, that won’t work,” Shirka said. Her voice came out through the helmet; yet she was too short to be seen through the visor. The suit pulled out from the wall and stood. “She imbued our suits with the same power she gave you: the force from the blow is redirected to the battery.”
Clance was alighting from a long glide across the room. “But it made me feel better,” he said. Mean and the others continued to pick their way to the unbarred door. Darrow stumbled as he looked back.
“Oh, so that’s how it works,” he whispered to himself.
Clance ignored him and stepped over to Shirka. “You can stay in there as long as you want; I’m calling Elder Sain now.” He reached into his jacket pocket.
“I don’t think he’ll hear you,” Shirka chuckled. “Not without this, anyway.”
Her little fist appeared in the helmet’s clear visor, holding on to his winged hairpin. Clance yanked his hand out of his pocket and the armor jostled.
“Give that back, Shirka!” he demanded.
“No,” Shirka said. “It’s disgusting that you kept it so long. Hey, Mean–!” The armor turned, facing its helmet at her. Mean peered out from beneath Dark’s poncho. “You want to see what it was that you did to me? Every time you destroyed my avatar?”
Clance’s eyes went wide and he held his palms out to her. “Shirka, now, Shirka–you don’t want to do that.”
“Avatar?” Mean asked. “That red disk?”
“Yes, the ring–the form I took on your world.” Shirka replied. “I channeled my mind through an object and that’s what I became. Clance uses this pin I have here.”
“Shirka, we can work this out,” Clance said. He wiped his blond hair back. “If you break it Elder will know!”
“You break the object and the control breaks,” Shirka went on. “Just like this.”
“Shirka!” Clance pleaded. “He’ll find out! It’s better for you if you just stay inside there; I promise I’ll do what you want.“
Shirka’s small fist lowered out of sight and a sharp snap soon followed. Clance let out a gasp.
Elder Sain looked up as the snap echoed between the charred hills. Clance’s needle plummeted to the field in two halves. The pointed end dropped near Sain; the piece with the wings swiveled and dug into the ground; the broken shaft protruding upward.
“Clance!?” Elder Sain asked. Sain checked around him, scanning the ruins of the pyramid, the river, and the peaks of the hills. “There’s no one here,” he said. He paced to the needle, looking down at the ruined bits. “Did that woman do this? No–how would she fight him? How would she even know?” He gazed back at the towering hands downriver. “Slaberdashia, there’s been an accident.” Sain paused, tapping his gloved fingers on his leg. “Slaberdashia, I need you to answer; this is serious.”
A gruff voice responded.
“Your sister is here, but she cannot answer.”
Sain stiffened. “And who is speaking?”
“My name is Chinpo, not that you had ever let me speak it. Slaberdashia will be delivered safely to Arsiling. We’ll see you soon.”
“You’re one of the Enpo,” Elder uttered. He received no further reply. With a curse he sprinted down the river bank, toward the massive stone hands.
Clance writhed on the floor, the shattered shards tinkling against his body. He beat his fist down and the glass dug in; whining; crying.
“He probably doesn’t even notice what he’s doing,” Shirka said. “We were designed to survive the backlash–not enjoy it.” The suit unfurled and Shirka stepped out. She grit her teeth at Mean. “And you put me through it twice!”
Tenny was helping Darrow over a collapsed slot machine as Trisk and Jelk were waiting at the unbarred door.
“You were attacking people!” Mean shot back. Dark took her by the shoulder.
“Now’s not the time to argue,” he said. Mean turned to him and followed.
Clance was thrashing now; the armor was descending upon him; attempting to cover him in its embrace.
“I’m attacking someone now,” Shirka said. “But you’re not going to care about that. That’s abandonment for you: help whom you choose and screw the rest.”
Mean stopped near the doorway. Dark pleaded again.
“Mean, we can’t do anything now.”
“Yes,” Shirka cooed as the suit swallowed Clance’s body. “Save Darrow–leave Steve and the others. Rescue your father but let Parlay die.”
Mean’s eyes teared up and she spun to face Shirka. Trisk pushed her way past Dark. She hooked her arm around Mean’s small body and slung it over her shoulder.
“Trisk!” Mean shouted. “You put me down!”
Trisk hurried through the hall with Dark and the others as Shirka’s voice carried down the passage.
“I don’t see Mackaba with you either, you abandon him too?” The fading footfalls were the only reply. Shirka chuckled. She knelt down to Clance. His cheek was twitching as the helmet sealed up. Shirka patted the side of the visor.
Trisk emerged from the roof stairwell, panting. She released Mean.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she said, straightening her ‘King’s Fair’ shirt.
“I did,” Trisk told her. She pointed at Dark. “Your boyfriend is too easy on you.”
“I probably am,” Dark admitted. “But everyone stand back–I want to try something.”
He backed to the railing, where rows of colored lights were blinking in sequence. Thin, white strands emerged from the poncho he wore. They swept over his hands and his head, lingered, and retreated beneath his clothes again.
“Alright it worked,” Dark explained. “Cocoa took the magic that Clance put in me.”
“Sweet; forgot the little snots could do that,” Jelk said. The clattering of the jalopy sounded, and it rolled across the roof, stopping inches away from Jelk’s shins. “Cute.”
“So where are we going?” Darrow asked as he climbed aboard. “Trisk, you know the way back, right?”
Trisk nodded. “I also have this ring”–she held up the gaudy gem on her finger–“King said it can open a hex door that leads right back home.”
“What!?” Jelk exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say so earlier!? Let’s get out of here already!”
The jalopy rose from the roof, drifting away from the casino.
“We still have someone else to find,” Mean stated. Dark smiled over at her.
“Who, that Mackabara guy?” Jelk asked. “What do we do: search every building here again? We haven’t seen him anywhere.”
The jalopy eased to the glass plain, bounced, and rolled along toward the large arena with the windows and vines.
“I think we may be able to get some help,” Dark said. “We should be able to speak to the Enpo caged here.”
“What’s an Enpo?” Mean asked.
“It’s a wolf-like race of creatures being controlled by one of the siblings,” Dark replied.
Tenny shook his head. “I must have lost a lot of memories because I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“It’s not your fault,” Dark said. “And I don’t know if I’m right. But I believe that I’ve seen these events from a different perspective. I saw Clance’s needle broken. And I saw the pyramid destroyed as Trisk said.”
“Well whatever you want to do, we may need to do it fast,” Darrow said. He pointed off the right side of the car. In the distance the Nameless was rotating to face the sun: the orange light and shadows accenting the large faces and sculpted bodies of the two colossal statues on the hull. The ship began to glide toward the casino grounds.
The hawks were at their stations around the command center. The lights of the Ferris wheel, coaster, and rides were approaching on the display of the wrap-around monitor.
“There’s a magic-based land vehicle traveling east-bound from the carnival,” the Bow Hawk announced.
“Can you tell who’s inside?” the captain asked from the center chair.
“Six people–they’re just hanging on to it. Wait. It appears that one of them is wearing your poncho.”
“What?” The captain said. “That’s odd. Put it up.”
The jalopy appeared on the monitor, with Dark’s body centered. He was looking up at them, his shoulder-length hair flapping against his long face.
“Interesting,” the captain admitted. He settled back, stroking at his smooth chin. “I doubt he could have stolen it. I wonder if we’ve met before.”
“I suppose it’s possible,” The Port Hawk said.
“Quite right,” the captain replied. “With Cougo violating our minds I suppose we could have. What if I gave it to him? Shirka told us that we had figured it out before. And wouldn’t that be a sound course of action? To give a personal item to someone as proof of trust?” He chuckled. “Ah, but we can’t know for certain. Continue the heading, but keep an eye on them.”
Dhaston’s transport bus left a clean track in the shore as it skirted the river; the Enpo running at its sides and kicking up dust and mud as they followed. Vornis was resting in one of the seats on the open-top roof, his thin whips of hair wild in the breeze. The others seats were covered by Slaberdashia’s massive body and limbs; she was laid out, unconscious. Tecker was standing near her head with the gas canister aimed at her face. Chinpo was seated next to her arms. They were secured with vein shackles.
“Hey check this out!” Malise shouted. She crawled out from between two of the front seats. The four metallic bars of a tire iron stuck out from the short fur around her neck, framing her long muzzle.
“Gracious, doesn’t that hurt?” Tecker asked. Malise hopped over Slaberdashia’s leg.
“Nah, it feels good,” Malise said. “That’s what Enpo do: we merge with things; make them part of our bodies.”
“Our ability is to be used for purpose,” Chinpo declared. “Not mere vanity.”
Malise raked Slaberdashia’s hairy arm with her claws. “She wouldn’t let us do it unless we were fighting,” she growled. “And then she’d force us to reject anything fun that we’d picked up. I think I’ve earned a little vanity.”
“I think it looks nice,” Vornis said. He bobbed his head in between the two “V” shaped vein thorns protruding from his neck.
“There’s something ahead.” Tyle’s voice spoke through a speaker. “Please tell me that isn’t the pyramid.”
Vornis turned, seeing the angular mounds of wreckage peeking over the stalls and booths of the fairgrounds. A few funnels of dust and smoke were still swirling in the sky. “Crap,” he muttered. He winced as he moved to the cab’s back window. “Yeah, that’s it. Was it,” he shouted so Tyle could hear. They rounded the hill and drove toward the great ruin, keeping near the river. Clance’s rendered needle was ahead, and Tyle slowed the vehicle with a blast from the horn.
“We should check for survivors, don’t you think?” Tyle shouted back. The transport stopped, and the engine idled. The pack of Enpo caught up, some looking to Chinpo while others went for a drink at the shore.
“I don’t sense anyone in there,” Vornis said. “The magic’s strong here, too.”
“Whatever happened probably wasn’t part of their plan,” Tecker said. “When we heard their leader over her communicator he sounded upset.”
“I smell fresh blood,” Malise stated. She scampered over to the cab, leaping atop it. “Straight ahead.”
Tyle opened the driver’s side window. “Hey! Get off the roof! And is that my tire iron?”
“Keep going,” Malise barked. “There’s someone ahead.”
The transport churned forward again. The long, broken needle caught Tecker’s eye as they passed it.
Elder Sain’s greaves were muddy as he plodded between the pair of towering arms, continuing through as the sky, river, and hills warped around him. When the maelstrom of color had settled he found himself in a plain room with a single door.
“What?” he uttered. He froze, studying the blank walls and window set in the door. Calm’s veiled face peered in at him.
“Elder came back,” she said.
“Calm!” Elder Sain cried. “Why does Shirka’s house look like this? No–never mind. Clance, can you hear me? Are you there?”
He marched forward and Calm opened the door for him.
“Cougo, this is Sain. Clance’s avatar has been destroyed. I need you to answer.”
He stepped out onto the wooden porch. Calm backed away from him.
“Have you seen anyone?” he asked. “Where is Shirka?” He staggered and caught himself on the rail. Shirka’s image snapped into focus beside him.
“Wow, you didn’t even hesitate,” she told him. “I didn’t have time to disguise it but, well, you just walked right through!”
Elder Sain watched as his sleek gauntlets deepened in color: the decorative spots and maroon shade darkening. He pushed away from the porch rail, taking effort to straighten up.
“That room was the checkpoint between the lab and the nursery,” Shirka said. “When we walked through it our suits got locked down. I guess you didn’t think I’d drag it all the way up here, huh?”
“What?” Sain uttered. “You couldn’t have.”
A pattering came from inside the house. Calm skipped to the side and back again.
“The doggies,” she said. “The doggies.”
An Enpo raced out the door. “There you are!” he barked. With a scrambling of paws he pounced on top of Elder’s armor, knocking him flat.
“They’re lucid!?” Shirka spat out. Calm skidded backwards, reaching for the chain at her hip. Another Enpo squeezed through the door. It bounded on the wood planks and weaved around Sain to snap at Shirka.
“Calm, get Elder!” Shirka shouted. The Enpo’s sharp teeth closed on nothing and its muzzle poked through Shirka’s image. The chain snaked out from Calm’s hand toward the armor. The Enpo on top of Sain snatched it; Calm yanked it back. As she whipped it forward again the second Enpo intercepted the chain, bowing its head and letting the metal links sink into his fur. A third Enpo emerged from the house now, followed by another.
“I think I’m leaving,” Calm stated. The chain broke off in the middle and she slipped between the rails of the porch. The Enpo poked its head through the gap, growling after her as she skated off.
“Don’t let her escape!” the one holding Elder commanded. Two Enpo bounded over the short stairs and down to the glass plain in pursuit.
“Where are they?” Elder asked. “What did you do to them!?” Shirka strutted through the Enpo that were attempting to grab her.
“They’re all alive,” she said. “I was going to take you to see them, but I guess you’re staying put for now.” Her form vanished from sight. Enpo continued to emerge from the house, their paws thumping on the wooden porch.
“Shirka, what is it that you’re after!?” Elder Sain shouted. The Enpo on top of him sniffed at his helmet. “We gave you that girl, just like you wanted. You were the one that accepted the deal!”
A vicious laugh rang out and the Enpo all froze in their spots.
“I never cared about Mean or what she did to me. The grudges–the ones that you said you could never understand–they were all against you, my hated siblings.”
Super-Quick First Draft Notes:
Shirka vs. Clance –
Here Shirka hides in a suit of “the armor,” and she kindly answers a question that Darrow proposed way back in chapter three of the first book: How did Dark remain unhurt while wearing the armor, even after falling from a great hight?
“She imbued our suits with the same power she gave you: the force from the blow is redirected to the battery.”
Here Shirka is referring to Clance’s magical ability to redirect energy, explaining that any force that would harm the user is shifted to the suit’s power source. I thought it would be pretty nice for Darrow to be there when this is explained, but it may come off as an obvious info-dump. We’ll see.
Elder Sain Realizes that Something is Wrong! –
I’m torn here. Is it better to have Elder go back on his own? Or does Vornis need to arrive, grab him by the head, and drop-kick him back to Arsiling? I’m glad I have time to think about this.
Mean and the rest escape from Joy’s Focus –
It may seem strange for Shirka to waste time antagonizing Mean. But her jibes are serious, soul-searching questions that I want the reader to consider. And writing insults is just too much fun!
I just now realized that this is also an advantage to having an antagonist that’s lived through the previous two books: she knows how to push Mean’s buttons. She knows about everything that’s happened and I can have fun with that.
The Hawks and the Captain observe Dark’s Poncho –
Oops, I forgot the captain’s name. Oh, well. It fits with Cougo’s ‘missing memories’ theme. I should have the hawks forget his name too. Like, just natural forgetting. Shirka only told them the name once, right? It would be funny if they just can’t remember what she said. I think I’ll put that in, ha,ha.
Tyle, Vornis, and Tecker’s road trip with the Enpo –
Dang, that would make a good chapter title. Or just ‘Road Trip with the Enpo.’ I’m tempted to do it since almost every title in this book has been a stinker so far. What did I put up there this time? ‘Convergence?’ Well I guess it does work. It’s just boring.
I also want more of Chinpo, Tyle, Vornis, and the rest of this group; I haven’t written anything involving them since the big fight with Slabby! Chinpo had such a cool line and then his group gets ignored for five chapters! Maybe everything after this will make up for it? Should I add more later? I still have so much to do.
Shirka’s attempt to capture Elder is foiled by Enpo coming out of her house –
Well that would suck as a title, I know that much.