“Thirty years,” Frank said, laying a hand on Allie’s shoulder.
Allie flinched, realizing she’d been staring at the front gate of her old home. “Thirty years for what?”
Frank frowned. “It’ll be roughly thirty years until we return.”
Allie’s heart suddenly grew heavy. “Before we return here? How do you know?”
“Because that’s how long it was last time… and the time before that. She’s amazingly consistent.” Frank said. “Are you sure you’re ready to leave it behind?”
Allie frowned, staring back at the gate. “There’s nothing for me here,” she said dutifully. “My place is with Serenity.”
Frank gave her a searching look. He doubted she meant her words, but he said nothing.
Allie tried to look unconcerned, smiling for added effect.
They stood outside the gates with the rest of the caravan, the last of their supplies being stocked in the wagons.
A growing crowd of citizens gathered at the gate where Serenity was greeting them one by one. Allie wondered how odd it must be to meet your Queen one moment only to watch her leave the next.
Suddenly a thought occurred to Allie. “How do you know how long it’s been?” She asked Frank. “There’s no way you’re sixty years old.”
Frank smiled, his eyes glazing over with a far-off look. “I’m close to it, actually,” he said, “but I know because my father was Serenity’s squire before me. And his mother before him.”
Allie shook her head in wonderment. “So you’ve known Serenity all your life?”
Frank nodded. “She’s like a second mother to me.”
With great difficulty, Allie refrained from asking what happened to his real mother as she saw the pain etched in Frank’s face. Mercifully, she decided to change the subject.
“Aren’t you worried she’ll be attacked again?” She asked Frank as they watched the scene from a distance.
“Those responsible for the attack are dead and dealt with,” he said confidently. “And they were the bold ones. If anyone else is unhappy with the changes we made, they’re too timid to show it, let alone die for it.”
Looking closely, Allie could barely make out the five leaders hand-chosen by Serenity. None of them were the original five; according to Frank, they had all died in the attack.
“But what’s to stop them once we leave?” Allie asked. “Surely they won’t be so timid when the dragons are gone.”
Franks sighed. “Maybe,” he admitted, “but they don’t know how long we’ll be gone. Fear will keep them at bay for a while, maybe even long enough that they get used to the new normal.”
“And if they don’t?”
Frank shrugged. “Then we’ll clean house again in thirty years.”
Allie shuddered as she recalled all of the people who had lost their lives because of Serenity, and all of the sudden, the reality of her decision began to sink in. There would be blood on her hands.
Suddenly, Serenity was walking toward the caravan, the crowd of citizens waving goodbye as she turned her back on them. Many of them were sobbing; from joy or sadness, Allie didn’t know.
“On to the next,” Serenity yelled as she grew close. “We move toward the Mountains.”
Allie nodded, moving toward the caravan to take care of her pigs.
“Where are you going, Allie,?” Serenity asked.
Allie froze, dutifully turning to face Serenity. “To care for my pigs.”
“Olly has done quite well in your absence,” Serenity said, her voice layered with accusation. “That is no longer your place.”
“So you’re to chain me up again then?” Allie asked, her voice wavering just enough to give away her hurt.
“If you try to leave again I won’t bother with chains,” Serenity snapped, her voice deceptively sweet. “No, you are to apprentice me instead.”
“Apprentice?” Allie repeated. “And do what?”
“Learn,” she said succinctly, gesturing for Allie to follow her as they walked toward the front of the caravan, Frank following closely behind.
“Learn what?” Allie asked, unable to keep the irritation from her voice.
“You will learn what it means to be an Immortal of justice,” Serenity answered with a disapproving frown. “I will teach you our ways so that you do what you were meant to do.”
“Which is traveling around and distributing justice?” Allie asked.
Serenity frowned, frustration beginning to show. “Do you know where Immortals come from? Why we’re made?”
Allie gave her a blank stare.
“That wasn’t a rhetorical question.”
Allie sighed, trying to think of an answer. “The stories say different things,” she finally answered, “but all of them have to do with Dragons.”
“Exactly,” Serenity said. “They link us to Dragons because, like dragons, we live forever.”
“So we become Immortal by interacting with Dragons?”
Serenity shook her head. “Not exactly. I realized I was an Immortal long before I ever met a Dragon, but somehow, we have the blood of Dragons.
“So my parents were Immortal?” Allie whispered, her heart racing.
“No,” Serenity said, “Immortals can’t have children.”
“How can you be sure?” Allie asked, her imagination already conjuring up the image of her faceless parents abandoning her in the middle of the street.
Frank immediately cleared his throat, warning Allie off that topic.
“Trust me,” Serenity said, frowning. “The point is that I know more about Immortals than most anyone alive, including why we exist.”
“Why do we exist, then if because of our parents?”
Serenity touched Allie on the shoulder, smiling gently. “We were chosen to bring balance to the World. To bring justice and order to those who would otherwise escape their fate. We are gods, Allie. I’m going to teach you how to be a god.”
Alrighty, another big one this week: How much should you tell your Reader?
This one is all about balance. It’s about Exposition vs. Action. It’s about Clarity vs. Entertainment. And the answer is to do both. Obviously.
Explain what’s happening in an entertaining way. Make sure your reader both understands and enjoys the story.
I’ve already touched on this aspect a bit, so this week is about more than “hey, explain things in an entertaining way.”
This week is about knowing what you need to EXPLAIN and what you need to HIDE. Ultimately, It’s about how to write a mystery.
Every story should involve mystery. I don’t care what genre it is, if you’re giving your reader something to figure out, they’re going to be engaged. But if nothing is explained, they’re going to question themselves. Then they’ll question the story. Then they’ll question you as the author. So how should you approach mysteries?
- Give us clues
- Then (at some appropriate point) affirm or deny those clues
Boom. That’s it. Now, I’ll go into how to write a mystery novel as a whole in another chapter, but for now, this is enough. This applies to every story, every description, and every plot.
Give us a clue as to how the character is feeling. Then confirm that feeling either right away or later on.
Give us a clue as to how the World works and then show it explicitly later.
Hint at the fact that Dragons and Immortals are connected and then tell you outright.
Then hint that there’s more to it and explain it even further when it’s appropriate down the line.
Stories are all about clues and then following through on those clues. So the key then becomes choosing the right clues for the right stories. More on this later.
The last important thing I’ll say here is this: whatever your reader is supposed to know or not know, make sure the main character also does or does not know.
Before this chapter, you didn’t know how Immortals worked. The natural reaction to a question like that is confusion. Am I supposed to understand how this works? Did I miss something? Is he ever going to explain this?
And now, after this chapter, you still don’t actually know how Immortals work. And despite this, you are likely no longer confused or anxious about Immortals. Why? Because Allie doesn’t know the answers either. And if she doesn’t know, that signals to you as the reader that it’s okay to not know. It’s an implicit promise that you didn’t miss anything and that I will (at some point) answer your questions.
This also allows the reader to solve the mystery in real time with the main character because you both know the same amount of information. Quite handy, ay?
So… Giving clues + Following up on the clues + Keeping the reader in the loop = Serviceable if not top-notch mystery served with jello