Chapter Four: So . . . They’re Back?

This trilogy has been fraught with examples of the point I try to make when asked about my writing. I am the one telling the story, but my control over the whole thing ends with my wording of it. It’s not me who decides who lives or dies, or how they go about the living or the dying. I’m just here to tell the story, as best as I can, as true to the way I see it. From my perspective, all this stuff actually happened to actual people, and somehow I have a porthole to that dimension in my mind. Safe on the other side of dragon-proof glass, I can watch the story play out and do my best to record what I see. I’m like an historian with a crystal ball and no political pressure or social programming. (Give me a moment while I chuckle darkly for the thousandth time about how I supposedly write fiction and the historian supposedly records facts.)

Sometimes I wish things would go a different way for folks. In life, in movies or television series, in all the stories told and untold, there are some tales that lose my interest or never grab it to begin with. Those that do play a special role in my life, and hold a sacred place in my heart (this is all a sweet way of saying that I am a fish full of hooks that has trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy).

Writing Book I was great; every trauma fairly quickly produced some positive consequence that helped soften the initial shocking blow in the following pages. I made myself feel squeamish for the first time as I wrote some of the scenes, and it dawned on me as I told the story that the damned tale was keeping secrets from me.

This became more evident as I wrote Book II. As things got darker and the body count meter turned into a spinning blur, I wondered how I hadn’t foreseen this. All the characters I had fallen for in one way or another in the first book were dead or in a place that made death seem either inevitable or preferable or both. I looked back over my process in choosing to begin this avenue of my writing with this story, and I had some strangely familiar realizations.

Whether you are a lady or a guy, if you have had any experience in dating or relationships, you can surely relate. Do you remember the first time you realized that someone was lying to you just so they could be with you? Maybe it was a small deception, perhaps even just minor evasion, or possibly it was an elaborate web of outright lies. Maybe you’ve seen a wide range of examples, as many of us have. You might have even stepped up to the next shocking level of realization and found yourself guilty in some way or another, or fallen into the bitter trap of thinking that everyone is that way to some degree. Wherever you are with it, surely you can remember that initial flash of feeling that came with the realization that you had been betrayed.

The simple fact of the matter is that that moment is not always where the story ends. Am I right? Sometimes the moment of reveal comes when the hooks are too deep, and the reveal is just not violent enough to pull them free. At that point, the story does one of three things. Most stories get boring and formulaic here, and lose my interest in both fiction and Earth-fantasy form. The rest go one of two ways.

A lot of stories get dark here. For some people, dark is synonymous with interesting. It’s not for me. The darkness is an aspect of the light for me, the light an aspect of the dark. Asking one to exist without the other is asking the world to go back to being flat, and my philosophical foundation would be shaky indeed if I did. However, there has to be a point in exploring the darkness for me. I tend to be more interested in a story that takes the other path after the great reveal, living or reading a tale where every aspect of life changes for the better with each new level of understanding. As I reviewed the way this story had courted me in the beginning, I realized that calling it deceptive was a bit harsh.

I got to see several scenes, vividly, whenever this was the porthole that grabbed my attention. The final few moments of each book were shown, as were many other glorious clips, and the basic premise was laid out pretty clearly. In defense of the story’s perspective, it couldn’t exactly tell me the whole story until I wrote it . . . at the risk of sounding like a guy defending his girl’s decision to not reveal her sweet tooth for heroin until after the wedding.

In defense of my perspective, writing these books made my role as a writer clear as never before. Like life, my own stories will surprise me in ways that I never anticipated. These surprises will not always be pleasant or pretty, but they will always be a springboard to something better. Like life, the ability to extract the something better from every surprise commands the full attention of the one doing the living. That being said, some chapters are just hard to write.

You know, like life.

Thanks for reading!

Walking Between Worlds; Book III: Fall of the Walker King will be available in ebook and paperback formats on December 1st.
Walking Between Worlds on Amazon

Need to start at the beginning? Read Chapter One here.

CHAPTER FOUR

“I have found them, my queen.” A hunched form approached the grand dragon throne, swathed in a dark and tattered robe. Her hood was pulled over her head, and her voice was a crackling ancient wheeze. The eyes that peered from the cowled shadows were dark and milky. Violet fire danced in that darkness, irises alive with an eerie glow punctuated by wide dark slits for pupils.
Curled up in a scaled ball on the throne, the dragon lifted her head from the coil of her body.
“Show me,” she hissed.
A dragon must spend a good many years in its reptilian body, practicing to make words sound spoken rather than hissed. The throat is different, the mouth and nose all literally a completely different animal. Although her age showed in her scant seventeen foot length and her graveled papery voice, Jessica had remained in dragon form since transforming in Roche’s coffee shop. All day she sat on her throne and issued orders and proclamations in that lizardly voice.
It may have been traumatizing beyond hope of recovery for a human to behold the new Dragon Queen in Hell, her raspy reptilian voice hissing the words that were bringing the dark realm to an even darker place. The devils and dragons bore up under it, and soon her callous reign became routine. Among the first of her proclamations was the promise of a life of ease to whomever found the souls of the Walker King and his bitch quisling.
“My Queen.” The huddled form produced a crystal ball from the folds of her robe. A perfect clear orb, it was but the size of one of her gnarled fists.
Her bent fingers uncurled slowly, as much as they could, and the quartz sphere grew as they did. In the space of a breath, the crystal ball was the size of the woman’s head. The weight of it bowed her withered arms.
Growing larger was not the only power that the quartz sphere possessed. As Jessica’s reptilian head snaked closer, she could make out shadows and shapes moving amidst the crystal clarity. Coming closer still, she could hear sounds that grew louder the more intently she listened. They were the same sounds she would hear if she left this room and ventured out to the layered surfaces of the dark underworld. Countless fires crackled and popped, an interminable percussion section that never played the same beat twice. Wretched screams and piteous moans that could have belonged to demons or devils or dragons filled the air, as off-time with the beat as they were off-key with each other. Altogether it made for a hellish song that chilled the new queen to her dark dragon bones every time she heard it.
Her reptilian nose nearly touching the smooth crystal surface, Jessica’s crimson slitted eyes narrowed as a shape shifted in the shadows and another moan rose above the others. Naked and trembling, the shape slowly rose from lifeless puddle of flesh to the shakily standing form of a human man. Another low moan, one of confusion, escaped his lips as he stood.
“Paul.” The Dragon Queen’s voice was an angry hiss, and the robed hag drew back.
“Closer!” Jessica raged at the woman. She couldn’t understand why they couldn’t use a giant flatscreen instead of this technological relic. In her short time on Earth, Jessica had seen humans take leaps and bounds in industrial ingenuity with a speed that rivaled any civilization that had risen before. She had gone for the Renaissance, and to continually secure the contract that had been drawn up to keep her mother both in power and in check.
First she had missed one; now she missed the other.
Arriving too late had broken her heart twice already. The new queen was not going to let it happen a third time. She gazed at the image and tuned into the sound.
How can they not even have internet? she thought to herself for the thousandth time, then perished the thought.
“Mmmo,” Paul’s voice was low and unintelligible, but it was still Paul’s. The shifting shades of dark red on the dragon’s scales was from the candles that guttered nearby. The queen was as still as her own captive breath as she watched.
“Maul.” it was almost a word this time, and Jessica’s eyes widened as he turned and seemed to look right at her. He looked like Paul in every way, standing there naked and peering into the shadows. Yet his stance was not Paul’s; the lost and wild look in his eyes belonged to an animal, and the way he stood looked like he either expected or craved violence. He continued to stretch and flex his muscles, as if his own naked sinewed body was unfamiliar to him.
His eyes stayed on the shadows, wild and watchful, and after a few moments Jessica saw why. They came alive around him, a half-dozen demons that were all taller and wider than the trembling wild thing. Talons and teeth were not the only weapons they had, and Jessica wondered where demons had secured swords as two of them advanced with gleaming curved blades.
The thing that looked like Paul dove at the bare feet of the monster closest him, not quite dodging fast enough under the swing of the demon’s sword. A gash appeared on his bare shoulder, splashing blood on the demon as they went down together. Human stood over demon then, the hard-won sword in his hand.
Watching intently, Jessica noted with satisfaction that the man was still bleeding. It did not matter when he beheaded the prone demon and disarmed another; what mattered was that he did it ever-so-slowly, like a normal human should. There was no sign of supernatural speed or strength, and the beast that looked like Paul was still bleeding and already beginning to wane. Holding just one sword aloft was too much the task, and the tip dipped to the charred rock floor as his fate loomed ever closer.
Another figure stepped from the shadows, and Jessica’s eyes danced with furious flames.
“Ximena!” she hissed, the name escaping her lips before she could recall it. Jessica continued watching the scene, oblivious to the stir caused in the throne room by the sound of that name.
Lost in the scene, the Dragon Queen watched Ximena and Paul battling the demons together. The taut grimace that had appeared when Ximena did turned to a wicked slow half-smile as they fought. The duo looked like two ordinary humans who knew as well as their onlooker that every swing of the sword only staved off the inevitable.
Jessica’s smile grew as another group of demons emerged from the smoky shadows before the first had been properly dispatched. It turned to a grin as the two humans looked at each other, him baffled and terrified and her swathed in a sad resignation.
Ximena’s voice sounded above the dreadful song that played eternally in the desolate landscape.
“Paul,” she said, looking in the wild thing’s eyes.
His blue eyes widened in wonder, and another unintelligible moan came from his lips.
“Paul,” she said again, eyeing the demons as they gathered. “I love you.”
They were upon them then, Jessica wondering how that voice could sound so much like the great Ximena and ordinary little Brenna all at the same time as flesh was rent from bone and life was plucked from them both. She watched Ximena bleed, again pleased at the red color as it flowed. Neither of them healed as they were torn limb from limb, and the light fled both of their eyes long before the demons stopped flaying their flesh with long talons and sharp swords and chomping canines. For as long s it took for the slavering monsters to consume every bit of what had once been her two friends, Jessica watched and smiled.
When it was over, her laughter filled the room. It was dark and reptilian and humorless, the sound of the bitterness that consumed her. She eyed the room and its unfamiliar occupants suspiciously, swinging her long toothy snout in a slow semi-circle. All of them had voiced some doubt or glanced some uncertainty her way since she had taken the throne, but for the twin sentinel guards at the door and the three others that attended her constant court.
Those were the three she regarded with the most suspicion.
First was the devil girl with the bright orange slitted eyes who always smiled sweetly when the queen looked her way. She was just a devil, but Jessica couldn’t pry into the lowest devil’s thoughts like her mother had been able to. All she could see was the smile, and every time she saw it she trusted the pretty devil a bit less. Everyone had presented themselves to her, but Jessica could not remember most of their names any more than she could read their thoughts. That was not the case with her second problem.
Royal dragons are educated, and Jessica had received her own royal education in Hell. Laurentis had been an old dragon when Jessica first fought her way free of her leathery shell, and she had heard stories of his glory and his viciousness to accompany every every history lesson on Hell’s waves of war. He had always fought for the queen, a lethal shadow beside her that lived for the loyal pleasure of bringing her enemies to the ground and tearing them asunder. She didn’t know what role he had played in her mother’s rule; she had not lived under it for long. Jessica hoped that his honesty in revealing his true name and his habit of never speaking against her bode well; why tell her his name if he meant to betray?
The new queen was young, but she hadn’t hatched yesterday. Jessica knew that the ancient dragon’s mind was surely as complicated as the layered tunnels of Hell, and as unfathomable. Still, she couldn’t help but think of an adage that she had heard many times growing up in the luminous wonder that Hell had once been.
Be wary of the devil whose lips would drip with lies; be warier still the devil who speaks truth and holds your eyes.
The words resounded in her head every time he gave her a solemn respectful nod across the royal room. Jessica had considered ordering his death or exile, but she didn’t know if the remains of her mother’s army would or could carry out the order. If the ancient dragon resisted, it could decimate what few forces and what little power she actually had. Humans and Earth had been the sources of her continued learning for the last few centuries, and she had picked up a thing or two living in the short-sighted realm. The first was that the mortal heart could neither contain nor understand the meaning of its own love; the second was another old saying, this one learned under blue sky.
Since Jessica had no friends to keep close, she did what she had to do and kept her enemies closer.
That thought brought her eyes and her attention to rest on her third source of suspicion. There was no mistaking that one’s intentions, the first human she had ever seen in the lower realms. He lay there sweating profusely, his skin flushed to match the devils that surrounded him. Had they food or water for him, he would have refused it. Matt lay on the floor, in chains, awaiting death like a child waiting for the ice cream truck.

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