Sympathetic Antagonists

Is it okay to have an antagonist you can understand?

Those who have been reading the Footsteps of the Prophet story will have noticed that I have made a few unusual storytelling choices. One of them, and the one I want to talk about in this post, is my choice to make a couple of the TDO characters a little more complex than the average side character.

A little bit of backstory. Footsteps of the Prophet is a spinoff or fanfiction of sorts based in and around Poseidon Simons’ Dragon Isle universe. The TDO is the approximate equivalent of the Klan here in the States.

I’d written a couple other stories before this one, all following the same standard theme. Lacking any other strong villain or group, I allowed the TDO to serve as the primary villains, and they were more or less your standard fare. Evil, twisted, and willing to destroy a family. Not a group you wanted to support.

But for this story I did something a little bit different. FotP has some of the same characters as the first two stories, and their backstories and motives have not changed, but many years have passed. Life has become more complicated. The reader is allowed to learn why the characters made the bad choices they did. They don’t have to agree with them, but they are given the opportunity to see the characters as the individuals they are.

Then there is the character Ryan, introduced early on as an acquaintance of Judas. Now, Judas is supposed to be the object of Ryan’s hatred, but he can’t express those feelings, and he begins to question why he’s involved in that organization in the first place. He loses his friends, loses his family, and is taken in by a family he is supposed to dislike (and who does not necessarily trust him), and all this leads to his growth as a person.

And yet, he still does not want to leave the organization, even though it’s obvious he should, because he isn’t sure what to do.

Now, the story is not posted to the end yet, so I will not say how it is resolved. However, readers should have noticed a change in his character from the beginning.

What other examples of sympathetic antagonists have you come across in your reading? Do you write them? I’d like to hear what you have to say.

Re-revising a novel

I have been working on a novel for the past year, almost, and am on the second version of the story. (No, I won’t tell you what it’s about. If you know, good. If you don’t know, or think you might know, then you’ll have to wait.) Originally I wanted to experiment with some things. For example, the story has only one POV character, and as a first for me, none are believers.

The story is not working.

Once this current round of revising is completed, aside from tweaking the plot a little more, I will be adding a second POV character and doing what I can to make the characters a little less faithless, even if they are not believers. I am not ready to have only one POV character for longer works, but it is more possible in short stories.

We’ll have to see.

Stories

Today I finished Resolutions, which was the follow-up to Repercussions. Combined (since they tell one story), it’s just over 100,000 words long! That makes it my largest project to date, easily. Of course, DC and its storyline will surpass even that.

Here’s a list of my projects so far. Complete works are in italics, bold works are future projects, and current ones have no special designation. :P

The Dragon Conspirators
Dragon’s Return
Unnamed Book Three (?)
Repercussions
Resolutions
Footsteps of the Prophet (possible title)
Special Project (March/April 2008)

And a few other ideas that I’m thinking about. This should be enough to last me for a while, though.

Untitled Story

I started this story around Christmas and put it down, only to finish it around 1:00 last night. (You’d have to be a writer to understand that last bit.) It’s on DIOM, but I’ll post it here for easier access.

Timothy wiped the rim of his earthen mug and wished he hadn’t. Thick brown grime coated his index finger. Sighing, he brushed his finger on his faded brown pants and brought the mug to his lips.

Warm, oily liquid filled his mouth. A bitter taste coated his tongue, but he swallowed, willing his stomach to hold its contents. Timothy licked the film from his teeth and set the vessel on the worn wooden table, shoving it away. A wave of water heaved over the top and spattered onto the table, filling in the many zigzagging cracks on the surface.

The tavern door opened, sending a gust of wind into the room. Timothy wrapped his shawl more tightly about himself and studied the newcomer.

Tall, an impressive build. Muscles bulged underneath a too-tight leather vest. The man’s chiseled torso left no doubt; the man knew how to show off. Thick arms swayed at his side, brown hair just beginning to bristle. A man in the prime of youth. Timothy frowned at the man’s face. Bright eyes hid under bushy eyebrows, and his thin lips stretched tight. He carried himself with authority. Timothy squinted. False, he assumed.

“Bartender, give me the strongest drink you got!” The youth’s rich baritone drowned out the myriad bawdy conversations being carried out in the room. Two score voices hushed and almost twice as many eyes (some patrons didn’t have a pair) turned his way. He strutted to a table occupied by three middle-aged men and winked. “Can I sit here?”

The one nearest him, who wore a hooded cape, shrugged and scratched his graying goatee. “Sure.” He kicked out a chair. “Sit.” The newcomer thanked him and settled in. “So what brings you out here?” the man asked. “Don’t get a lot of strangers in these parts, just you and that old man there tonight.” Timothy scowled and took another sip. Water dripped onto his meager beard. “Guess you’re just passing through?”

The youth nodded. “Yeah.” A matronly woman plopped a mug down. “Thank you,” he said, bringing it to his mouth. Timothy watched with interest. The youth’s eyes bulged, but he downed it. He exhaled. “Ah! That’s good.” He propped his elbows on the table and looked around. “I slayed a dragon.”

Timothy choked. He reached down to the floor and picked up his old gray walking staff, then he stood it upright. The thud it made when it hit the floor could be heard, the tavern had grown so silent.

“Yew didn’t kill no dragon!” A gap-toothed farmer stood and pointed a shaky finger at the youth. Drunk. “Y’ain’t got no sword!”

The main grinned and dismissed the complaint. “Rest assured, I did. What, did you think I would bring my equipment with me?” The farmer didn’t move for a moment, then shook his head stupidly. “Old Drake? Yep, my best sword is stuck in his flank.”

“Ye’re joshin’ us. Ain’t no way ye killed Drake!”

Timothy’s staff pounded the floor with every step. “Slew a dragon, eh?” He put his weight on the rod and slouched. “Do tell. What did he say to you?”

“Aw, don’t encourage ‘im!” the first man said.

Timothy did not acknowledge him. “Well? He spoke to you, I am sure of it. They often do, even the corrupted ones—before they kill you.”

The youth smirked. “Drake didn’t even put up a fight. ‘Matt!’ he said. Surprising enough that he seemed excited to see me, doubly so when he spoke my name.”

A splinter dug into Timothy’s palm, but he did not flinch. “He gave your name?” He placed equal emphasis on each word. Someone sniggered. “What else did he say?”

Matt waved his hand. “Oh, some nonsense about being chosen for this-or-that task. Didn’t make sense.”

Timothy raised his staff and swung it. The rod hit Matt’s head with a mild crack! Not enough to hurt, but it got his attention.

Matt rubbed the point of impact. What was that for, old man? You itching for a fight or something?” He rose from his chair.

“You fool!” Timothy forced him down again. “You do not even realize what you have done!”

Matt crossed his arms over his chest. “Amuse me,” he said, a defiant glint in his eye. His cheek had begun to swell.

“Drake was never a threat to anyone. He is still pure!” Timothy stamped his foot in frustration. “He is a farmer!”

“Shut up, old timer!” A drunk in the corner sneered. “We didn’t come to hear no wives fables.”

Timothy pointed his index finger at Matt and ground his teeth. “You listen. My words may have passed from the popular scene, yet truth remains. He Chose you as his own. He likes you!”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Drake likes me? What did I do to him?” Timothy knew the youth mocked him, but he said nothing.

Timothy’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Was he dead when you left?”

“Well, ye-yes, of course!’ Matt glanced at the quasi attentive men surrounding him. Timothy raised his staff in warning. Matt shook his head. “No. No, he wasn’t. Close, but not dead.”

“Then there’s still time.” Timothy scowled at the youth one last time, then he hurried out the door.

***
All the locals knew Drake made a temporary home in the cleft between two house-sized boulders. Timothy stumbled to the entrance and called out. “Drake!” A low, mournful note shook pebbles loose from their perch above Timothy’s head. “Are you well?” He rushed into the cave, confident the fire-breathing reptile would not attempt to harm him. “Drake, I heard what happened. Please, answer me!”

“Who speaks?” The sound of the dragon’s voice shook the man to his bones. Deep and powerful, yet sad, as well.

“A friend. I should be in the main chamber in a moment.” On cue, Timothy stepped into the dragon’s sanctuary. He gasped at the sight before him. “A sleek green dragon fully ten cubits in length gazed at him, eyes unblinking. Yellow irises shone, illuminating rounded pupils.

The dragon’s forked tongue sampled the air. “I do not know you.”

“I am Timothy, noble drake.” Timothy bowed as he spoke. “The sword, does it still…?” Drake lifted his head and looked to a corner. A blood-stained sword reflected the light emanating from the dragon. Timothy took a step closer. “Are you badly hurt?”

Drake sang the same mournful note that Timothy had heard only moments before. “I am well in body, though I fear my heart has suffered a mortal wound.” The dragon stood and limped to the human. “Why, Timothy?” the dragon asked. “What drove my beloved to act in wanton violence toward me?” When the dragon sighed, a flurry of wayward sparks drifted to the rocky floor.

Drake was an arm’s length away, now. A tear trickled down Timothy’s cheek and nestled in his beard. “I cannot say. Matt does not know the legends. Or rather, he learned the wrong ones.”

Anger seeped into the dragon’s voice. “My corrupted brethren have destroyed the fair reputation once bestowed upon us. Their stories have tickled Matt’s ear, you say?” Drake bowed his head. “Then I mourn for him all the more.”

Timothy stroked the fine dragon’s smooth scales, running his fingers along the ridges between the armored plates. Pure dragons had always been this trusting of another, so spoke the old stories. Drake would not harm him; indeed, the thought would likely never cross his mind. “I am glad the stroke did not cause undue harm.”

Drake’s ears perked up. “Silence!” he commanded. “The lad comes.”

Timothy bowed to the dragon and moved to the wall of the cave, hoping to blend into the darkness. The sword continued to reflect the light, a beacon in the opposite corner.

“Matt!” Drake bowed his head low. “You have returned.” Excitement seemed to radiate from the dragon’s body. Drake took a step forward. “I want to apologize for whatever it was I may have done to you. What?”

Matt rested a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Why do you mock me, dragon?” The creature backed away. “I came to kill you, yet you remain alive! And you know my name.” Matt drew his sword and held it before him. “Now I’ll finish the job.”

“But Matt, I…” Drake’s gaze flickered to Timothy. “I do not understand. What have I done to you? I have wished you no harm.” Timothy wanted to call out, to help, but he knew to do so would be wrong. It was rude enough to listen to the conversation.

“There was an old man at the tavern. Because of him I’ll be a laughingstock if I do not return with your head.” He glanced toward Timothy but saw nothing. “Tell me why you should live.”

Drake had not heard. His thoughts were turned inward. “I Chose you,” he mumbled. “I swore on that day to ensure your happiness.” Sparks littered the floor, and Matt jumped back. “Does this mean I have failed?” Drake lowered himself to the ground. “Then kill me, for I have abandoned my oath.”

Timothy blinked. He had not expected this!

Neither, apparently, had Matt. “This is trickery, I know it!” Matt breathed heavily but did not attack. Second thoughts?

The dragon moaned. “You are not happy, Matt? There is nothing I can do to restore some of the joy I sensed in you that day?”

Matt’s sword arm lowered, as though the instrument had become heavier. Hope sparked in Timothy’s heart. Perhaps he would leave! Then Matt’s troubled expression changed to one of fierce determination. His arm found strength once more. Drake glanced at the youth for a moment before returning his gaze to the floor.

Timothy’s jaw trembled. It was not his place to interfere, yet he could not bear to see the destruction of an innocent creature! Soul overcame mind. “Enough!” he shouted. Matt’s sword clattered to the ground; he had dropped it in shock. Timothy’s voice reverberated through the chamber, giving the impression of a giant speaking. The old man stepped from his hiding place. “Keep your hands where I can see them!” he barked. His staff tapped against the stone for each step he took. “I will not have you lay a hand on Drake.”

The dragon sighed, his hot breath buffeting Matt. “Timothy, what is this you have done?”

Timothy bowed. “My apologies. I could not watch in silence while a fool slew you.” He shook with rage. “And you, I hope, will not be foolish enough to die due to one child’s ignorance!” He glared at Matt. “Should you kill this creature, I will hold you responsible for driving the most noble race to grace this earth to extinction!” He set his foot next to the sword and slid it away.

“What’s it to you? I don’t see what you have to lose.”

Timothy swatted at Matt’s leg. The youth jumped just in time. “Do you truly know nothing, boy? You owe your very existence to creatures such as he!” he said, jabbing his finger toward Drake. “What is more, he Chose you. Do you know what that means?” Matt shook his head. “I thought not. That is as close to a statement of servitude as one of his stature can get!”

Matt laughed. “You mean he would do whatever I told him? You are a lunatic.”

“I said servitude, not slavery. And do not speak!” he snapped at Drake. “This is no longer your concern.” Timothy stooped and picked up the sword. “A nice blade,” he said as he tested it. He presented it to Matt. “Take it. Good. Now I want you to do something for him.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Will it make you leave?”

“Yes. Now. I want you to look Drake in the eye and say, ‘I am honored that you Chose me, yet I humbly ask that you seek someone of greater worth than I.'”

“Like you.”

“Just do it.”

Matt sighed, shook his head, and spoke: “I am honored that you Chose me, yet I humbly ask that you seek someone of greater worth than I.”

Timothy nodded once. “Good. Drake, you are no longer bound by oath to this buffoon.” He pointed with his staff. “And you, young man, should leave. Drake now is under no obligation to keep you alive.”

“But–!”

Timothy arched his eyebrows. “You want to risk it? You are a fool.”

Matt sheathed his sword. “Fine. You win.” He pointed at the dragon. “But I will get you one day!” Timothy watched him leave the chamber and listened until the echoes ceased.

“There we are. And look, he left his sword. I am sure you can pawn it, Drake.” The dragon stared at the entryway. “Drake. He is gone. And by his own words, he is no longer chosen by you.”

“I suppose. Timothy, will I find someone else?”

Timothy shrugged. “Perhaps. But you may want to educate the next one first. Speaking of, I take it he was your first?”

Drake’s ears pinned back in embarrassment. “It was. I will know better next time.”

“There will be a next time, good. Do not be intimidated by this one mistake. And now I should be going. You are certain you will not suffer further physical injury?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Timothy hobbled to the exit. “And Timothy, when will you clothe yourself in scales once more?”

Timothy pondered this for a moment. “In time. It is easier to spread the truth about us in this form.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, and one more thing. You should probably consider leaving soon in case Matt returns. Humans are predictable that way.”

“Yes, Timothy, I will.” The dragon bowed. “Thank you.”

Enan’s Story

Okay, I enjoyed this story more. Let’s see if it’ll all fit. (Oh, and Enan, being Enan, doesn’t always act the way he should.) Of course, the story makes more sense if you’re familiar with the soap opera that is Ryu.

Enan threw the bag containing all his belongings down the side of the ravine and kept running. Letting them go hadn’t been his first choice, but it was a decision he realized he had to make; it slowed him down, and his pursuers did not seem all that interested in taking a break so the kitsune could gain a better lead. And with the unnecessary baggage out of the way, he could run much faster. Looking over it, there hadn’t been all that much there, anyway: just an extra change of clothes that he had with him at all times and more than a few rocks he had picked up while out to make a better wall for his shelter. The rocks had really slowed him down.

Enan knew this forest; he lived nearby, after all. He had spent a good part of his five centuries alive in the hundreds of acres that comprised these woods, and he knew everything there was to know about it. He scrambled across fallen tree trunks and bored his way through the undergrowth. For the second time that day he was thankful that he had splurged enough to purchase high-quality rubber-soled shoes in the town that one time he had been there. (The first was when he bolted across a beach coated with sharp shells and stones.) They served better than the worn moccasins he had worn for the past several years. While they were perfect for sneaking around unheard, they were not the best for running for one’s life, especially when the sole had been worn down so far there were holes in it.

He ignored the pain inflicted on him by the briars that lined the trail he was making up as he went along; they were nothing compared to what he had seen earlier.

“You are taking the proper arrangements?” Enan asked one of the town leaders, a kitsune with a weathered face and graying ears. The elder pulled an object from the folds of his burgundy robe and handed it to Enan.

“We’ve been training with these ever since the humans came,” he said. “Are you familiar with them?”

Enan held the L-shaped metal device in his palm. “Not really. What are they?” Then it clicked in his mind. “This is a human weapon! Where did you get it?”

“You of all people should know that we’re not the most passive of races.” The elder grinned. “We’ve been biding our time, that’s all.”

Enan shoved the weapon back into the elder’s hands and spat on the ground. “Biding your time while the rest of Ryu has gone to hell! Since when did we start caring about using their weapons?”

“About the time we got sick of our firefoxes being abused,” the leader replied. “Of course, there are those of us who would rather pamper our foxes than train them for war.”

“Shut up,” Enan said. He did not take kindly to insults about his firefox. His had never matured beyond the kit level, so while most self-proclaimed warriors had foxes that towered to four feet or more at the shoulder, he was stuck with a playful creature that would only pose a danger to those who dissolved in saliva. Cute, yes, but not the most effective.

A rumble filled his ears. He spun around, searching for the source of the noise. A glance at the elder told Enan that he had heard it, as well. “What is that?” His ears moved forward, and his tail twitched. He scraped the ground with his shoe, noticing that there were no shadows. He looked up. Cloudy. “Not thunder, is it?”

A foreign object appeared in the distance, flying closer. Several of them. “Gina! Teru! I want you to round up all our fighters and tell them to meet me in front of the city hall in the next ten minutes!” the elder shouted. A blond-haired and black-haired kitsune saluted before dashing in opposite directions. “Enan, get out of here.”

“What?”

“The rest of us will be moving underground before long. You’re not advanced enough to do any good.”

“Well thanks a lot.”

“The humans are surprisingly strong,” the elder rebuked. “You and your firefox would just get in the way.” With that, he summoned a four-foot-tall fox creature made of congealed flame and climbed on its back. “Take me to the square!” The fox growled its acknowledgment and raced to the center of town, leaving Enan behind.

“Leave? Yeah, right.” He summoned his firefox, only to have it yip with delight and run across the street. “Where are you going?” he asked. The kit returned with a bone, which it placed at Enan’s feet. “We’re not playing fetch right now.” The kit looked at him with a sparkle in its eye before snatching the bone and running off. It skidded to a stop thirty feet away from him and dared him to chase it. Cursing himself and the kit, he obliged. The kit scampered away as soon as Enan took a step toward it and stopped again. It was all a game.

This went on for several minutes, the absurdity of the situation not lost on Enan. The rest of the town was readying itself for an attack, and here he was playing a game with his firefox. He rolled his eyes and ran after the kit again, who was now running back the way they had come from.

A popping sound startled Enan and made him gasp for air. He finally noticed that the objects in the sky were much closer, and he could make out all the details of the machines. His kit dropped its bone and bolted for its master, leaping into the air and colliding with Enan’s chest. Enan grabbed the kit and held it close, covering its ears with his hands. “You need to go away,” he said gently. The firefox dissolved into nothing, leaving Enan with his hands free again. He raced for the town square.

Fighting had already begun by the time he arrived. He threw himself behind a stone wall and peered through one of the narrow cracks. Humans in their hunter green masks and uniforms and kitsune in their multicolored tunics battled it out. I didn’t know humans used fire, he thought. But their fire was different. It came from weapons similar to the one the elder had shown him earlier, and the only clue to the flame inside was the smoke. A group of two kitsune stood in front of Enan’s wall and launched streams of fire at the humans, who replied with explosions from their weapons. Both fell to the ground, and a small piece of the wall chipped away. Enan’s heart raced, and blood pounded in his ears. This wasn’t supposed to happen! The fire should have incinerated the humans. Unless they had learned.

He saw the elder collapse under the superior force of the humans, then he made up his mind and rushed from the scene as fast as he could.

He had been followed, apparently. Some of the humans from the town must have noticed a lone kitsune trying to escape with his life intact, and since that went against the orders of whoever they served, they needed to remedy that. Sighing to himself, he came to a stop and changed direction, choosing to hide himself in the undergrowth.

Enan heard them as they walked by, alert and at the ready. They were going to pass him.

Unfortunately that was the moment his firefox decided to summon itself and protect its master. The kit growled and lunged at a human, who fired at the creature out of surprise. The bullet passed through the firefox without causing any harm, but the human had managed to scare the kit witless. It had run back into hiding and was now yipping and growling at the humans from a safe place: between Enan’s legs. Enan wanted to strike his firefox, but he knew that would do no good. And it wasn’t obeying his orders, so that was out of the question, as well.

He looked up and locked eyes with the human when it approached him, or more correctly he glared at where the human’s eyes would be if they weren’t behind the mask. “What are you doing out here, kit?” the human asked, using the derogatory shortening of the race name. Enan resisted the urge to snap back. The human leveled his weapon at the kitsune’s chest and indicated that he was to walk out of hiding.

He obeyed without saying a word. He surveyed the humans who had come to capture him, looking for a sign of weakness but finding none. One of the humans said something to another and reached for the kitsune’s ears, stroking and pulling them.

That did it. “What do you think I am, a dog?” He pushed the human back several feet and growled. The other human shoved its weapon into his chest again. Enan thought he could smell smoke coming out of his ears. No one touched him there.

An orange creature roared and attacked one of the camouflaged humans, forcing him to the ground and tearing at its clothes with its claws and teeth. The human’s allies turned on the creature, an acceptably-sized firefox, and fired at it. As expected, the bullets passed right through, causing no harm to the fire-composed creature. It must have felt Enan’s shock, because it stepped away from its victim and faced Enan. He recognized it immediately.

All of a sudden he felt weak, and he staggered against a tree. The human who had first found him swore and jammed his weapon against Enan’s back, demanding an explanation. “I don’t know what happened!” he cried. He had an idea, though, but he wasn’t about to tell them. It would get them killed.

“It’s gone!” Enan let himself relax. It wasn’t going to be a problem, anymore. Then he sensed movement behind him and all of a sudden he blacked out.

They brought him to one of the many prison camps scattered throughout the region. They stripped him of his old clothes and outfitted him with the prisoner uniform: a stark-white tunic with matching cotton pants. Then they threw him into a cell of his own, and there was nothing he could do but wait.

And brood.

He already had a dislike of the creatures who had invaded his home, but the realization that not only did they claim to be able to conquer but actually had the means to back up their statement irritated him. For what reason did they feel it was their right to subjugate a foreign species? But the humans weren’t the only target. He still had not forgiven himself for his humiliation in defeat.

“Here! This way!” The voice shook Enan out of his dark thoughts. Whoever had spoken wasn’t speaking English, so there was the small chance that the kitsune had finally managed to muster the courage and resources to strike back.

The strangers’ steps clacked on the hard concrete floor and came to a stop outside his cell. Because his room contained no window to the outside, he could not check to see if his suspicions were correct. “This one!”

“You sure?” another asked.

“Yes, I’m sure!” The sound of a lock being tampered with made Enan’s heart jump. He leaped to his feet and ran to the door.

“I’m in here!” he said. He tapped on the door and swore. “I can’t help you, though!”

“No problem; it’s taken care of.” That was the second voice. The door slid to the side, and Enan got his first look at the two who had come to help him. His blood immediately went cold.

“What do you want, human?” The human reached in and tried to grab Enan’s arm, but he wouldn’t let him. “Stay back!”

“We don’t have time for this! As soon as the shock wears off, the humans are not going to be forgiving,” the kitsune with the human said. “I’d give us two minutes, tops.”

The human shoved a hunter-green uniform into the captive’s hands. “Change into these,” he ordered. He nodded at his helper, who reached into her pocket and pulled something out. Enan didn’t get a good look at it before she lunged at him and forced whatever it was between two of his molars.

Enan’s hand shot to his face while his tongue searched for the device. He found it, a metal chip that had been successfully wedged into place. “Don’t move it,” she said. “It’ll help you escape.”

“And how, may I ask?”

“You’re running out of time,” the human said. “Change into those things now!”

“Okay. You come barging into my cell, shove the scum’s clothes into my hands, make me feel like you’re ripping out a tooth, and you expect me to go with you?”

“Put simply, yes.” The sound of movement from above made the two kitsune and human look up. Enan saw that both strangers looked quite nervous about the whole affair. He decided to take it.

He tore apart his old clothes and forced his way into the uniform. “Hey, I’m not going to have room for my—” He felt the back of the pants, hoping that maybe he could stuff his tail down one of the legs. “What did you do to me?!” Was that a snicker?

“It’s only temporary. Come on, we have thirty seconds left.”

Grumbling to himself, the now-human-appearing Enan stepped out of his cell for the first time in weeks. Or was it months?

The kitsune nodded. “Looks good on you. Now come on!”

He followed the pair up the stairs and out into the courtyard, where the kitsune and humans were fighting it out. “What happened?”

“We got sick of having our side cooped up in cages, is what happened,” the human replied. For the first time Enan wondered if this human was another kitsune in disguise like him.

The three hurried outside the camp to the relative safety of the no-man’s-land. “Think you can stay human until we get back to camp?” asked the kitsune.

“I guess.” He didn’t know how he had changed in the first place, so he certainly did not know how to revert to his original form.

Once they arrived, one of the rebel kitsune approached the trio and engaged in a short conversation with the human. Enan’s English wasn’t that great, so he didn’t catch all of what was said. The kitsune told Enan to follow him, and after checking with his rescuers, did so. “I realize that was a tad unorthodox,” he said. “Sorry about that.”

“Hmm.”

“So you can take that chip out whenever, but unless you want your tail to be in a very uncomfortable position, you may want to wait.” The kitsune winced when he spoke.

“Personal experience?”

“You could say that.”

He followed the kitsune’s advice and stripped himself before removing the chip. It came out with some difficulty since it had been lodged in there rather well, but before too long he was staring at a strange metal object. “You can hold on to it if you want,” his host said. “Might come in handy later.”

“You trust the human?” Enan asked.

“Yeah. Considering he’s been helping us for the past several months. We wouldn’t’ve even found the camp if he hadn’t helped us out.” He pulled a loose hair from the top of his ear. “Unfortunately that made him a fugitive. His name’s Chris. He’s a nice guy; might want to get to know him.”

Enan had nothing better to do, so he wandered around the camp. He ran into Chris while he walked. “Oh uh…hi.”

The human flashed him a smile. “Good afternoon,” he said.

Enan grunted in reply and let his firefox out to play. It waddled over to Chris, who laughed and picked it up. “He’s cute,” Chris said. “You got a name for him?” The firefox licked his face, so Chris gently moved its head so it couldn’t attack him again.

“No. Never bothered naming him.”

“So listen. This is about the time that I apologize to a kitsune I’ve just met for the evils my kind has caused.”

“Don’t bother,” Enan said. “I don’t really care.” A buzzing sound filled the air. “What’s that?”

“Oh, it’s probably my parents emailing me again,” Chris replied. Moving the firekit to one hand, he pulled a small device from his pocket and began tinkering with it. “Yep, that’s what it was.”

“They…what?” Enan moved so he could see the device better. It was a small plastic rectangle with a colored screen. “What’s it say?”

“They’re asking me how I’m doing, that’s all. I’ll reply to them later.” He put it back in his pocket and cradled the firefox again. “So where do you come from?”

“Nowhere, really. I’m a wanderer. I already know you’re from Earth. How’d you end up helping us?”

“I came here to see something different, but I’ve been working for you since day one,” Chris said. He wouldn’t answer any more of Enan’s questions. “Anyway, nice meeting you.” He waved to another kitsune a few yards off and headed his way. Chris walked with a slight limp, Enan noticed.

Later on the kitsune rallied around Chris yet another time. He produced the blueprints he had used earlier, and he and the leader kitsune (who was a few years younger than Enan and was named Flair) began assigning tasks to everyone present. The humans had not followed them back, which as a shock in itself, but the current opinion was such that no one would tolerate the humans’ presence any longer. They would begin with this camp as a symbolic gesture, and hopefully this would begin a turning point. If all went well, the humans would either be dead or would return to their world.

So what would that mean for Chris? Enan had heard whispers of disappointment that their hero would be forced to leave. Chris himself had stated that he would return home as soon as the war was over, but some believed he was only saying that so others wouldn’t accuse him of working for his own gain.

They returned to the camp, a force just under fifty strong, ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for the redemption of their home. Both sides fought fiercely, but as time wore on the kitsune gained a definite foothold that they did not lose. Finally, the humans surrendered the camp.

That was an odd time. The humans and kitsune stood on opposite sides of the courtyard, the blood of both races mingling in the center. Chris and Flair approached Enan and asked him to come with them.

The three crossed the courtyard, and Chris began to speak. “We are going to give you a choice,” he said. “You can either be prisoners until we can find a way for you to return to your home, or you can join your fellows there.” He left no doubt that he referred to the bodies lying about.

Enan saw why he had been asked to come with the two. The humans had been disarmed, but at least two burned with hatred behind their calm demeanor. Should they try to attack the traitor human, Chris might need someone to protect him.

Chris nodded to his two helpers and backed away. Then blood came from his head and he fell to the ground.

“We would like to take his body with us,” the soldier who referred to himself only as Ashton said. He was one of the few who had helped restore order to the courtyard after the sniper had murdered Chris. And as expected, it had been the kitsune who had reacted the most violently to the event. Enan and Flair had not been enough to keep them under control.

“Understood,” Enan said. “Although, if you don’t mind…have all his valuables been taken care of?”

Ashton shifted on his feet. “Er, well, yes, they have. Why do you ask?”

“I was wondering if I could have something of his.”

Ashton paled and then turned red. “How can you even ask that?”
Enan held up his hands and took a step back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. I would like to contact his parents, if you do not mind.”

Ashton frowned. “There’s going to be someone to do that,” he said.

“I know, but that person isn’t going to give the perspective that matters. Our perspective.” The official reports were that the human Christopher Bryce had fallen in battle, but the kitsune refused to allow the report to say anything about his defection. He would be just another number in the battle.

“He was a traitor.”

“He was a hero. Goodbye.” Enan left the human to his complaints.

He was able to inherit Chris’ PDA, and when the humans were arranged to be sent back, he grabbed the chip he had used to transform into a human and went with the defeated soldiers with the understanding that he would be allowed to return as soon as his mission was complete. It was difficult going from place to place with only a rudimentary understanding of the language, but he picked it up quickly enough.

Finally the day came when he stood outside the Bryce front door. There was a car in the driveway, so he knew someone had to be home. He knocked on the door three times and waited. After a minute a lady wearing a pink sweat suit answered him. “Mrs. Bryce?” He bit his lip. “I am a friend of your son, Chris. May I come in?”

She let him and to top it off called for her husband. He sat in a chair, and they on the couch, with only a dark wooden coffee table between them. “What was it you wanted to say?”

“I wanted to tell you what really happened.” He removed the chip from between his teeth and set Chris’ PDA on the table. “And to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Gone

I had to write a story for Structure of Fiction, as many of you well know. Unfortunately, it was not my best work by any means. Nevertheless I will post it here for you to shake your head over.

The steady rain fell from the overcast sky by the gallon, slamming into the tender green shoots, bruising them and forcing them back to the ground. Thunder rolled across the land, a gentle roar that soothed and instilled fear into the hearts of man. The clouds performed a modest light show for those who dared to watch, flashing with white and blue streaks of energy.

One man, though, did not see this. He lay on the floor with a blanket over his head, the fabric held tightly between his jaws so it would not move from his face. He had stuffed the cloth into his ears as best he could, wanting desperately to drown out the sound of the rain and storm. He also could not see the lightning outside, and that was good. The man moaned and curled into a fetal position. He’d heard about the approaching storm on the news that night. The meteorologist had predicted an inch of rain for both the evening and early morning hours, with the possibility of a thunderstorm in some areas of the state.

When he had gone to bed that night, he had set his alarm for 4:30 in the morning like he did every day. The other side of the queen bed was empty again, still made up and untouched. How long had it been? No more than a couple days, for sure. It seemed longer. He turned out the light, and irritated by the glowing red digits on the clock, he stuffed his head between the pillow and mattress. It was dark here. He could sleep peacefully.

The first rumble of thunder had shaken him from the land of dreams. The basketball game beckoned to him, but the present time demanded his full cooperation. He groaned and turned in the bed, and that was when the storm made its presence known. He was curled up on the floor within a minute.

He reached out and brushed the edge of the dust ruffle before latching on to it. The fabric in his fist strained at its seams, and a few threads popped loose from their place. He didn’t care. Here in the midst of the storm, he wept.

Morris thought he saw a flash of color in his peripheral vision, so out of curiosity he walked over to that corner of the gym, white towel still around his neck. On closer inspection, the colored dot was a small, star-shaped piece of paper. “Jules is happy,” someone had written on it with glue and glitter. He flipped it over, not really paying attention to his action. The reverse of the paper was blank.

Where had it come from? He put a fist to his mouth and coughed, the sound echoing in the empty room. He ignored the slight metallic taste that registered on his tongue. He was one of the “preferred” members; he had a key and could come whenever he wanted. His job and lack of motivation in personal life had kept him away from the building for a while, and he was thankful there was no one here to see his flab. But back to the question: the children’s play area was on the opposite side of the building, and surely a child would not wonder this far on his own! It puzzled him.

He placed it in his pocket. He would decipher the meaning of it sooner or later. His mind filled with more questions. Who was the child? What did he look like? Was he upset now that he had lost this trinket? All this and more that he had no business thinking, yet his brain churned out thoughts by the dozen.

Overwhelming.

He breathed, taking in the faint musty smell of the gymnasium. He whipped the towel from his neck and cleaned his nostrils with the fresh warm scent of the water. Then the man rid the towel of the wrinkles beginning to form and folded it; each corner lined up perfectly with its companion, and the creases were so clean that someone not in the know would perhaps assume the man’s accomplishment to be the work of a machine.

His car was locked, an altogether unnecessary precaution considering that there were no humans living within three football field lengths of the gym. It was a habit of his, having picked it up after living in the bustling city for ten years. Every day, some car had been broken into or an unfortunate victim raped or murdered. That was why his wife had asked, no, begged to move out here, where all was quiet and the crime rates were low. He yanked the key fob from his front left pocket and without thinking pressed the only button missing its symbol—the paint had worn off some time ago, gone unnoticed by both of them until one evening over a supper of broiled pork with a side of canned green beans that she had brought it up.

He responded like the ideal husband should, with a grunt of acknowledgement and another bite of food.

“What am I supposed to do about it?” he said at last.

“Well…I thought you might want to know.”

He took a swig of water and sighed in contentment. “Thanks for the info. Should I get a new one?”

“If you’re going to be like that, then…!” She harrumphed and stabbed at a bit of lettuce. “Ginger and Stephen never have this problem.”

He dabbed his mouth with a paper napkin. He hated the cloth ones and told her so. They made him feel dirty. He smacked his lips. “Problem?” he asked. “What kind of problem?”

“I thought…” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I don’t know what I was going to say,” she said. “Never mind.”

“Sure.”

“Did you write much today?”

He shrugged. “A couple pages. I had a block.”

“That’s annoying,” she said. He knew she did not understand what it meant to suffer from his writer’s block. She could pretend to try, but all she ever did was offer half-baked suggestions that made about as much sense as a colorblind artist. Or even better, a deaf musician. But not one like Beethoven. He was an exception, albeit one that in his opinion was overrated. He could never listen to more than five minutes of his work without the urge to bolt from the room, bile threatening to erupt from his throat. “When you get the chance could you pick up Gerty for me tomorrow?”

Another sip. “Hmm?” His tongue rubbed against a shred of lettuce and performed some inhuman acrobatics as he spoke. “She’ll be ready by then?”

“They couldn’t find anything wrong. Apparently she’s pickier than we thought.”

“Ah. Sure, I can get her tomorrow. Did they give a specific time?”

Kaci tapped the stained wooden table with her middle finger, the contact between nail and table expelling a steady series of clicks. If he remembered he just might use the sound in his next story, but how could he describe it? Yes! Like the sound made when he typed on the keyboard every day…no, that didn’t work. He’d have to think about this a little more. “I think they said something about picking her up before noon, but I don’t think it’ll hurt anything if you’re late.”

“Wouldn’t think so,” he agreed.

Gerty had hissed at him all the way to the truck and all the way home. She’d behaved herself, or so the vet said, and quite nicely, too. “In fact, we’ve never had a patient as tolerant as she is!” The doctor went on and on about how great she was, and that he would be thrilled to have her as a patient again. Morris smirked and told him that he hoped she would never have to come back here.

The doctor looked like he had been punched in the face, but he recovered quickly. “Ah, yes, yes you’re right!” He beamed at the scowling cat in the crate. “That would be a good thing!”

Morris wondered what wonderful words the veterinarian had to say about him as soon as the door had closed behind him. “That jerk!” No, far too simple. “Did you see what that egotistical self-indulgent feline-loving man said to me?” Morris cracked a grin. As horrid as that was, it amused him. He especially liked the conflict of senses. Perhaps he could modify the sentence somewhat and let one of the villains say it. He’d get a laugh out of it, but probably no one else would. That was okay.

“Gerty, shut up!” He turned around to glare at the cat, who glowered back and started cleaning herself. “Fine, ignore me.” He turned around and faced the road again. “Ungrateful mongrel cat.” Gerty mewed from the back seat. “Oh, I hear what you’re saying!” He banged his hand against the steering wheel to vent his frustration. “You think you’re all high-and-mighty and that this is an affront to your dignity. And to top it off you have to suffer with the dumb human!” He took a deep breath. “Calm down, Morris. There’s no way that thing could have thought all that.” He sighed. “You need to get out more.”

Kaci had suggested the gym. He had joined that very week, not wanting to disappoint. She had looked him in the eye that evening when he told her the news, then she set her purse down on the worn chair and proceeded into the bedroom, not saying a word. He chased after her only to find the door locked.

“Kaci? Kaci, you okay?”

“Shut up, Morris,” she said. “This is not a good time.”

He searched his mind for the lock pick. If only he could remember where he had put it, then he would force his way in and demand an explanation. At least that was what one of his characters would do. Him? Never.

Gerty thought she deserved more attention than the human gave her. She was upset; her mistress had disappeared, leaving this thing behind to feed her and take care of her. Certainly not what she had in mind. Morris barely noticed that she had wandered off to another room.

The souvenir from earlier that day lay before him, the edges now slightly bent and one star tip ripped completely off. He smoothed it out, chipping away some of the silver glue-and-glitter mixture. He brought his hand up to his face in disbelief, seemingly horrified at what he had done. Then the odd emotion left him, and he brushed the soiled hand against the tablecloth.

Jules is happy.

Where had this come from? he asked himself again. Morris took the fragile paper in his hands and rubbed it between his fingers. Some of the dye in the paper came off when he did this, staining those two fingers a pinkish red hue. Curious, he stuck one finger into his mouth and sucked. Bitter, like the flavor of a pecan, but not as dry. Morris then took the finger out of his mouth, purposely popping his lip as he did so.

Morris stood up and stretched. His back popped, the sound taking with it some of the stresses of the past few days. “I got it!” Misplaced joy surged into his chest, spurring him on. He bolted up the stairs and into his office, where the computer waited. He slammed the door and began to type furiously.

The star soon joined him in the office. He had desperately needed a break, so when he passed by the table again, sandwich in one hand, he snatched up the paper trinket and returned to his work. He looked at it every few minutes, getting a new drive with every glance. Then he decided that it would be better if he could always be looking at it. “I know I have some tape in here somewhere,” he said to himself. And to the characters, who were waiting for him to continue their story. “Calm down, calm down, I’ll be with you in a minute!” One whiny character screamed for resolution. “There,” he said as he patted the paper which now hung on the computer monitor.

Gerty screeched from downstairs. Morris shrugged and continued to type, and page after page filled itself with words. The cat could wait. It could die, even. And still Morris wouldn’t care.

It stormed again that night. Again he could not sleep.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Morris.”

“Kaci!” He gripped the phone tightly. Please say what I want you to say!

“I was wanting to pick up Gerty tomorrow, if that won’t be an inconvenience or anything.”

“Oh, no, no, it’s okay. What time?” He reached for a pad of paper and a pen, ready to scribble whatever she said.

“Around four. I get off work early.”

“Okay, got it.” Morris almost capped the pen, then changed his mind. “Are you going to stay? For dinner or something?”

A sound like static on the other end. “No, Morris. I’m picking up Gerty and leaving.”

“Ah.”

“You holding up okay?”

Morris did cap the pen this time. “Yeah, yeah, I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking. You?”

“Coming down with a cold, but I talked to Tom today. I might be getting a raise, too.”

“Tom?”

“Never mind. You find a job yet?”

“No. Nothing until I can finish my book, remember?” To amuse himself, he threw the pen at the dull sky blue trashcan on the other side of the closet room. Hit the wall and bounced back. Missed by a foot. He never had been good at sports.

“Okay. Good luck, then. See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, sure. See you tomorrow.” He put the phone back in its cradle and reread the note he had just written: Gerty With Kaci @ 9:00. She had said four o’clock. He corrected his error and shoved the notepad away. He would probably forget, anyway. “You hear that, cat?” he called. “You’re being evicted tomorrow afternoon!”

Morris clambered down the stairs, already eager to find Gerty’s crate, food dish, and other accessories. He found them all and piled them one atop the other in a sizeable stack beside the front door. Putting the food in the dish was a nice touch, he thought. Orderly. The litter box could wait until the afternoon.

Now Kaci would have to come in.

Gerty mewed when he entered the bedroom. She was standing on the chair, acknowledging him for a second before returning her focus to the prey outside. Morris chuckled. Those blue jays would not lose a fight with her.

“Hear me, cat?” he said. A tear trickled down his cheek. He sniffed. “You’re gone.”

The Dragon Conspirators

So I realized something. A couple of you have read The Dragon Conspirators in its entirety, so you know the path the story takes. But that may change soon.

Yes, I have decided to rewrite it. Why? Because I can do better than what I currently have. True, much of the story should stay about the same, but I am going to change one very important event: the prologue. When I’m done with that, you’ll probably wonder what happened! That big object I mention in the center of the room? Gone.

As are all aspects of the Experiment, though Henry David Smithson will remain, most likely. Yes, he will. Except his role will be that of an observer of the dragon species.

By writing the stories and discovering the history of Elchnon and its inhabitants, I realized that it is possible for dragons to take on a human form on their own, although it can take centuries of practice to perfect this magical illusion. Arnín, however, is unable to do this. So his human form must come about through another means.

I think it makes the story more interesting, anyway.

When I originally envisioned the book, more took place in Elchnon than the finished product showed. While that most likely will not change, I would like to be able to include–if not in this book than another–a more detailed look at draconic culture. Feedback would be appreciated on this. Or any of it, for that matter.

I also thought I skipped too much. For example, I originally wanted Snake Valley to be just as badly off as the rest of the world, but eventually that changed and Ephmir became the governor of the region. But I don’t like how I mention the human condition without ever showing it.

So what does all this mean?

To be honest, I don’t know.