“We’ve been here too long,” Frank whispered into Serenity’s ear.
Serenity shot him a withering look, forcing him to take a step back as she turned her attention to Miguel, hogtied on the ground. “Shall we proceed to the next trial?”
Miguel didn’t bother to answer, his teeth grit in pain. His entire body shook as it worked to heal itself from the last trial of Serenity’s torture.
Allie forced herself to stand with Frank, watching Serenity work with one eye closed. Serenity had insisted she learn what it meant to deliver justice.
“What haven’t we tried?” Serenity asked sweetly, squatting down next to Miguel. “Bleeding out?”
“You tried that yesterday,” Frank replied, his voice devoid of emotion.
“The day before last,” Frank answered.
Miguel spat at Serenity’s feet, his eyes full of hatred.
“We’re running out of supplies,” Frank said, continuing his plea. “Another one of the supply wagons burned down last night.”
Serenity let out a low growl. “The rebel Immortals won’t scare me out of delivering justice. We will move once we’ve taken care of Miguel.”
“I can help you fight them,” Miguel said, his voice strained.
“With what dragon?” Serenity asked with a malicious smile. “Little Allie has your dragon now.”
Serenity shot Allie a mysterious look, making her heart race. Her smile twisted into the smallest hint of a grimace. Something told Allie that Serenity very much desired to take Claire as her own.
Then Serenity turned her gaze back to Miguel, allowing Allie to breathe once more.
“I can fight,” Miguel insisted, his voice growing stronger.
Serenity seemed to consider him for a moment before responding. “Acid?”
Frank nodded. “We have not yet tried acid. We can obtain some from the belly of one of your dragons if you like.”
Serenity suddenly turned to Allie, her eyes alive with intensity. “Why don’t you summon Claire?” She asked. “Have you learned to do that yet?”
Allie froze, wanting nothing to do with the stranger’s torture, but she was trapped. “Yes,” she said after a moment. “I figured out how to communicate simple demands only yesterday.”
“Then why don’t you summon her for us?”
Allie nodded, steeling herself as she sent a mental picture for Claire to understand. Distantly, she felt Claire pull against her, not wanting to crawl out from her hole in the ground, but she quickly gave in.
“She’s on her way,” Allie said, pointedly ignoring Miguel’s stare.
“Good,” Serenity said, stroking Miguel’s head like she would her dragons.
Allie felt Claire’s presence almost a full minute before she finally emerged from the ground, pulling herself up onto the surface.
Serenity stood upon her arrival, staring a Claire with a hunger that put Allie on edge. “Tell her to regurgitate acid over Miguel.”
Allie hesitated. “How do I order that?”
“You know what it looks like to regurgitate?” Serenity asked.
“I’ve seen pigs vomit,” Allie said, frowning.
“Then just picture Claire doing that, except show the color as dark green. She’ll understand.”
Allie scrunched her nose in disgust as she pictured the command. Claire watched her attentively, waiting as the image was delivered. Surprisingly, she didn’t resist the command.
From what Allie could tell, Claire seemed eager to obey as she crawled to Miguel and spit acid all over him.
Allie couldn’t watch as Miguel screamed in pain. She forcibly restrained herself from covering her ears, attempting to seem strong in front of Serenity, but the noises coming from him were torture.
Worse were the images she was receiving from Claire as she released the acid.
Eventually, his screams subsided. He had either died or healed. Allie prayed he was dead so this could be over, but she knew better than to hope.
When she opened her eyes, she found Miguel alive and healing, most of his body already reformed.
“So not acid,” Serenity mused out loud, sounding disappointed.
“Serenity,” Allie said hesitantly. “Can I be excused to practice with Claire?” She would have done anything at that moment to get away from the situation.
Serenity frowned. “Very well,” she said. “It’s important for an Immortal to become proficient with their dragon. Work on your commands.”
Allie nodded profusely, immediately hopping on Claire’s back to fly away.
“Don’t go far,” Frank said, his face full of concern. “The other Immortals are looking for ways to weaken us. They won’t hesitate to attack you if they find you alone.”
“I won’t,” she said, taking off.
Allie’s stomach lurched as Claire leaped into the air.
As soon as they had climbed high enough, she directed Claire along the caravan, making sure to stay within sight as she dove in and out of the thick clouds.
Claire responded to her every thought, maneuvering through the air with precision she never thought possible.
It wasn’t long before all thoughts of Miguel had vanished from her mind. With Claire, she was free. There was nothing to restrain her in clouds. Nothing that sought to enslave her. Up here, she was the one in control.
Lost in her thoughts, Allie flew Claire farther than before, the caravan nowhere in sight.
Allie sighed, beginning to turn Claire around when she saw something strange along the ground.
A wide canyon stretched below her, looking like it was recently dug out from the ground, loose dirt piled around it.
Curious, Allie flew lower to better see the canyon. Suddenly, Claire imagined giant dragons digging at the ground, as if to show her how it was made.
Panic began to take Allie as she directed Claire to fly along the canyon. The canyon curved sharply, the end nowhere in sight.
As she followed it, she eventually grew close enough to the caravan to spot it from a distance, but the canyon kept going. She followed it all the way around until she reached the very point from which she started.
It was then that her suspicions were confirmed. The canyon formed a complete circle around the caravan.
The Immortals had them completely and totally surrounded.
Bad guys. They are not created equal. Some are straight up evil. Others are just normal people in the way of the protagonist. (or vice versa)
Every character in your story should serve to shed light on the true nature of your main character, and none are more important than the bad guy.
Your antagonist should challenge your protagonist. They should be tailor-made to push your main character to the limits.
To examine how the bad guy should impact the story in relation to your main character, we will examine The Joker from The Dark Knight: one of the best bag guys ever written.
4 Characteristics of a compelling bad guy
Your bad guy needs to be more powerful than your main character. This forces the main character to grow in order to succeed against them. However, power comes in many ways.
The Joker didn’t have tons of money or henchmen. Nor was he physically more powerful than Batman. But his intelligence allowed him to be in control the whole time, to the point where he actually beat Batman at every single turn even at the very end. (We’ll touch on that with the 4th characteristic)
If your bad guy doesn’t have a really good reason for what they’re doing, then the entire story will fall flat. They have to want something and want it badly. A weak motivation is a weak story. (For both protagonist and antagonist)
The Joker is a complex character, but the movie gives several points of dialogue to help us understand the Joker’s real goal. It wasn’t to destroy Gotham. He was a Nihilist. He truly believed nothing and no one really mattered, and his goal was to prove that, deep down, everyone else was just like him. “I took Gotham’s white knight and I brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”
This encompasses a lot of aspects of character, but the finer points of this are: Bad guys are people too. They have feelings. They don’t think of themselves as bad guys. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they get away with it. Don’t ruin the story: be believable.
The Joker wins at every turn. Though arguably insane, he has clear motivations. The Dark Knight is one of the most real stories out there, which is impressive considering it’s a superhero movie.
Again, your bad guy should directly challenge your main character. Not just in plot, but in beliefs. They both should stand for something mutually exclusive with the other. This way their conflict is forced to be a moral fight with meaning tied to the outcome.
Batman believes in the value of human life. He believes every criminal can change and so he refuses to kill them. Joker believes in the exact opposite, and spends all of his efforts on proving Batman wrong. At every turn he forces Batman to make impossible choices; to assign value to some lives over others. And he ends up doubly “Winning” in the end by turning Harvey insane (“proving” everyone is a push away from being just like Joker) and forcing Batman to choose between two impossible choices. (Chooses to lie to millions of people)
Fun fact: I just thought of this, and I don’t know if this is accurate, but I think “The Dark Knight” could easily be referring to Harvey Dent, and not Batman as I originally assumed. Joker called Harvey the “white knight” and then tarnishes him and turns him dark. “Dark Knight.” He might have been putting a name to his last and final victory.