“Stay close!” Serenity shouted over the rushing wind as they approached the mountains.
All five dragons drifted closer, slowing down so Serenity’s commands could be more easily heard over the flapping of their wings.
Shaking with nerves, Allie found herself stroking Claire’s scales to calm herself. She didn’t want anyone to die, but there was nothing she could do to stop this fight.
She was about to either be a victor or victim, and she was free to choose which. If she was a victor, she could advocate for mercy. All she had to do was pull out when the fight began. A voice inside of her was near shouting that she didn’t belong here. It would be all too easy to hold back.
Her other option was to run. She could take Claire and leave the rest to their fate. They all deserved what was to come… except maybe for Frank. And Draco for all she knew. But they weren’t her responsibility.
“I don’t see anything,” Frank said, scanning the mountainside.
“The dragons don’t sense anything either,” Serenity said, her voice suspicious.
“Looks like they may have run off,” Miguel said, picking his teeth with a knife.
“No, they wanted us here,” Allie said, prompting Claire forward toward the tree line.
“How do you know?” Miguel asked.
Allie didn’t answer as they flew over the trees and into a layer of fog.
“Pull up,” Serenity commanded.
The rest of the dragons listened, climbing above the fog, but not Allie. Her heart raced as she let Claire lead the way to the cave. With every breath, she tensed, preparing to be attacked, but the attack never came.
“Maybe they did run,” she whispered.
“Allie, pull up!” Frank yelled. “They’re not here!”
Ignoring their yells, Allie urged Claire onward. Eventually, they emerged from the fog and dove straight into the cave. It was empty.
“There’s no way they changed their minds,” Allie said, trying to wrap her mind around their absence.
Baffled, they shot back out through the fog, climbing above it to join the others.
“I think we found their cave,” Allie said warily. “Claire picked up the scent of dragons, but they’ve left it behind.”
“We need to go back,” Serenity barked, her face paling.
“We’re not going to try and track them down?” Miguel asked, frowning. “I still get a dragon, right?”
“There’s only one reason they’d want us here if not to fight,” Serenity said, gritting her teeth. “Let’s go!”
Suddenly, they took off toward the caravan, flying back twice as fast as they came. The wind whistled in their ears, but there was no more need of communication. Something told Allie that if Serenity was right, the fight was already over.
Serenity was the first one to see the smoke rising through the air; a beacon marking their caravan.
Then the flames became visible, the entire line of carts on fire.
“No!” Serenity cried, diving toward the flames.
Allie’s chest felt hollow as she realized what the Immortals had done.
“Mother!” Frank shouted, pointing to the other side of the flames.
As they flew closer, a crowd of people appeared beyond the flames. Hundreds of people corralled into a circle, surrounded by six dragons.
Serenity hesitated in the air, signaling for the rest of them to pause as well.
All of her people watched as she hovered next to the flames. All six dragons were tense, each with a rider and poised to strike at the crowd.
“Wait for my signal,” Serenity said glancing back at Frank and Allie.
“Do you know their weaknesses?” Miguel asked with calculating eyes.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Serenity replied as she prompted her dragon to land.
As they landed, all four of them staid on their dragons.
Suddenly, two Immortals broke from the circle, leaving their dragons behind.
“Queen Sarah,” Stephen shouted as he sauntered over with his partner. “It’s been too long.”
“Stephen. Brianna.” Serenity said, biting off their names in acknowledgment.
“I don’t think she’s pleased to see us,” Brianna said sweetly.”
“What do you want with me?” Serenity asked, not even remotely hiding her disdain.
“We know you still fancy yourself a Queen,” Brianna replied, her voice turning into a snarl. “You gather followers and pretend as if we are yours to rule.”
“You are mine to rule,” Serenity snapped.
Stephen chuckled, shaking his head. “Then today is the last day of your rule. Hand your dragons over to be Claimed, and we won’t hurt your people.”
“You’re a fool,” Serenity spat.
“But are you a Queen?” Stephen challenged. “Will you sacrifice the life of hundreds for the sake of your pets?”
“Is it too late to switch sides?” Miguel asked as he slid off his dragon’s back.
“You may stand with the rest of Serenity’s people,” Brianna said, pointing him to the crowd surrounded by dragons. “Your fate will be determined by the Queen’s decision.”
Serenity watched Miguel leave without expression, her face a mask of indifference.
“What’ll it be, Mother Sarah?” Brianna asked. “Will your people die today?”
For a moment, Serenity sat on her dragon in silence. Then, finally, she slid to the ground, gesturing for Frank and Allie to do the same. “I choose my people.”
Then Serenity’s dragons walked forward, two of them submitting themselves to Stephen and two to Brianna, Claimed one by one.
“Claire too, Allie,” Serenity said, her voice suddenly devoid of all life.
“The girl can keep hers,” Stephen said, his voice thick with victory. “She earned it.”
Then, without warning, all ten of their dragons let out a feral roar and tore into Serenity’s people.
Allie didn’t know what was happening until it was too late, their screams paralyzing her with fear. She chose wrong. They had all chosen wrong.
The pit of despair. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s an essential element in plotting. It’s when everything looks the bleakest, and there’s no obvious way out.
The pit is the beginning of the end of your story, and the worse your character’s situation at the pit, the more satisfying their triumph. If you’re too easy on them, the end will feel cheap and unearned. And if you’re too hard on them… well you can’t really.
The pit should be caused by your character’s decisions, either directly or indirectly, and, if possible, be the final challenge to their beliefs.
Why? Because everything after needs to be the climb. You need to get your character to a place where they’re ready to dig themselves out of the pit and triumph in the end.
Yes, they’re allowed to have help, but it has to be them, and primarily them, that wins the day. Otherwise, they’re merely spectators in their own story and they shouldn’t have been main characters in the first place.
This being the case, it should go without saying that you should not have a deus ex machina. Which literally means God from machine, but really means something powerful that comes in and saves the day. It happens often, and it’s not satisfying.
Ex: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (the movie)
When the ghost army comes in a wrecks shop. There was foreshadowing, but not much, and, honestly, it was just too powerful. However, it is somewhat forgivable because it’s not the actual climax of the movie anyway, so… whatever.
Ex of doing it right: Lord of the Rings: Two Towers.
Gandolf shows up with a human army and saves the day. We were constantly reminded that all they had to do was last until the third day, and they did. We knew help was on the way, and even if we forgot for a second, we remembered when the time came.
All this to say: make the pit as dark as you possibly can… as long as you have a legitimate way to triumph over it. Don’t back yourself into a corner to the point that you have to do something crazy or weak-sauce to win.
But, in the end, if you do back yourself into a corner… you can always fix it in edit.
So what I’m really trying to say is do the pit right = do the plot right.