Not a Little

So as mentioned on Facebook and Twitter today, I’ve had a problem. I haven’t written a word in a month. On the first of February I laboured to end the day on a high, inching my way through my third novel. I was in the final few scenes, a pivotal scene. But like a lot of times before, something bad happened. The story frayed at the edges, I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the characters or most importantly: where it was going. So I stopped, confused, hurt and angry. I just stopped right there and started not writing.

A month later, it’s now March the 2nd, a full month since I last wrote and I woke up with an idea. I loved the IDEA behind this story, currently untitled, about a young man who will eventually become a great wizard, but also a man who spends most of his life dedicated to collecting artefacts for the wizarding world. His name is Artemus Rex, and he meets a wizard called Zeddevere Zalaxus, better known as Zedd to his friends, co-workers and enemies. The two join forces and secure a dangerous artefact before it falls into the wrong hands, blah, blah-di, blah! Etcetera, etcetera, exposition and murmurs.

Well as mentioned, I really dug this idea for a story, but I stopped and I hated it, so I started again. This time I wanted to flesh out each character, reveal what they had, what they were willing to lose, what triumphs they wanted to steal from the jaws of defeat.

So I started again, this time I chose to write out of order, writing scenes I wanted to write instead of trying to piece a plot together as I went. I have a rough idea of the beats in the plot, but I wanted to keep it interesting for me, this way I wouldn’t get annoyed and bored of it when I had to write those boring parts. In fact, I chose this time to try and NOT write the boring parts at all, because who really wants to read those? Not me and most importantly, not you.

So I wrote the first scene, which was probably more like the third or fourth scene, I’m sure there’ll be a scene that sets up Art’s back-story, a scene that will introduce the higher-up plot, maybe a flash-forward to Art as a great wizard at his home deep within the Grand Library of Alexia but heck, that’s the best part of discovering the story this way.

What I’m doing today is something I don’t often do, in fact this is a real treat because I very rarely share a work in progress to anyone. Sometimes I will pass a scene to my wife to look over to see if she enjoys it, but it never passes her, until I one day finish it and hand it off to my friends and family.

So here it is, the first (fourth/fifth) scene of Artemus Rex and the Snake Cult, or something like that!

Artemis meets Zedd for the first time

‘Hey!’ a faceless shout cried out across the crowded market. Art scanned the throng of people frantically and hoped to find a face. He found three.

‘There he is!’ the biggest of the three men shouted angrily as he shouldered one of the unassuming townsfolk out of the way, ‘get him!’ And his two cronies took flight, also knocking onlookers aside violently. Art weighed things up for a moment and decided to do what he knew to do best: run.

When you’re running from a gang of angry brutes, it’s best to keep your eyes forward and worry more about finding the shortest route out of a crowded marketplace. Art had spent most of his life running at this point, he had run away from his family’s farm at the ripe old age of twelve, and he had run from thugs just like these.

He wasn’t sure what they wanted, but the lump of squishy pink tissue in his noggin had decided that it was much safer to not find out through the blunt force of a fist to the nose. So he quickly flicked to chapter in his head called “ESCAPE!” and read rule 1a: “Eyes forward, head down, keep running”.

It was a breeze, physics alone dictated that this would be, he was smaller, lighter and much faster than the six feet and then some of heavy, fatty muscle behind him. He didn’t go to school much beyond the age of ten but he had learned on the job that speed trumps power in most situations, mostly through trial and error.

His soft brown shoes skidded on the pavers, which lined the marketplace and turned the corner like a cheetah, elegant and agile. The alleyway he had turned down was mostly empty and he continued with his head down between the towering apartments and fish shops that lined each street near the docks. He heard the commotion behind him and dared for a moment to glance back to see one of the men pursuing him trip and fall, slamming into a wall shoulder-first.

Art smiled, he knew he’d outpaced the brutes and would easily get away, however he didn’t realise that there were another three that had rounded the corner ahead as he looked over his shoulder. He soon figured this out when he collided with a very solid chest.

The impact had thrown stars into his vision and he crumpled onto the ground like a wet piece of paper. Physicists everywhere spat lukewarm coffee out of their mouth as they observed in real time a perfect example of an unstoppable force colliding with an unmovable object. This moment would go on to change the field of physics forever, if they were ever able to stop the endless in-fighting and bickering.

‘That looked like it hurt’ one of the pursuing thugs huffed, still catching his breath.
The brute, who had just experienced the first ever recorded incident of an ostrich at full-speed hitting a stationary, blue and white 1972 Kombi van, was clutching his throbbing chest. ‘You know what else would hurt?’ he strained between his teeth, ‘this!’ He swung his leg back and kicked forward into that soft part just between Art’s shoulder and ribcage. White hot pain washed over him as he slid across the cobble alleyway.

A few other of the men joined in, delivering kicks to the cowering thief on the ground, Art had long ago given up on hurting, now he was curled into a ball, hoping to decrease the surface area as the men turned him into a human hackey-sack.

‘We’ve been asked to deliver a very poignant message’ the most well-spoken thug for hire in the history of the universe said. It fell on near-deaf ears, his words sounding like they had been entombed in a stone ziggurat for thousands of years before an unsuspecting adventurer activated the trap that unleashed the curse. Art heard something along the lines of ‘murph derder herf nerf’.

‘Stop this’ came an unnaturally loud voice, ‘stop this at once!’ There was a commanding tone that only the greatest of generals, or priests or influential leaders possessed. It was the sort of voice that made you stop at attention, even if you had never served a moment in the military. All six of the thugs stopped kicking Artemus and looked in the direction of the voice.

It came from a hunched man, his long brown leather jacket hung so low that it was easily noted that this man was rather tall before time ravaged his spine. Tendrils of matted, wet, grey hair flopped limply from his head, tamed by a strange, tall, grey hat. In his right hand was a wooden staff, gnarled and twisted at the top in an artistically derelict way, deliberate and perfectly deformed. He glared at them all from beneath the brim of his hat.
‘Keep out of this, old fool!’ one of the men shouted back, ‘his business is with us, not you’.

‘What if I said this boy was of my employ?’ the bent old man replied, ‘then his welfare would be of my concern’. He spoke strangely, otherworldly in a long-forgotten twang.

One of the men made his way to the old man with the full intention of guiding him out of the alleyway to be back about his daily wander to the butcher to pick up the giblets for whatever animal he intended to feed today.

‘If that were true’ the man said softly, ‘I would advise you to best find a new employee, and possibly invest in someone with a slightly better character reference next time.’ He held out a hand and touched the old man gently on the shoulder, hoping to take him away from the scene without much fight.

‘This is rather unfair, sir’ the old man replied, ‘I wasn’t here to tell you to stop, instead I was hoping to even out the odds a little’.

The man at his side chuckled, ‘no, grandfather, this is not a fight for you to get involved with, and you’ll notice that we’re still outnumbering you both three to one’.

‘I’m not your grandfather, son’ the old man shot back, glaring up at the man mountain with icy blue eyes, ‘nor am I concerned with the odds’.

‘I’m not your son, old man’ the brute replied, his face hardening as the lizard part of his brain detected the slight increase towards conflict.

‘Get your hand off me’

‘I would advise that you leave this alleyway, you old fool, before you hurt yourself’ the thug replied sternly, a threat this time instead of a recommendation, ‘be on your way, now’.

‘I’m not going to ask you again’ the hunched figured insisted, still feeling the pressure of the man’s hand on his back, ‘take your hands off me, please’.

‘Nor will I’ the much younger and much, much larger man replied, ‘please leave’. Another of the thugs was already making his way over to this duel of stubbornness with mild interest as opposed to wanting to be involved in the brewing scuffle.

‘Come on, sir’ the thug insisted for the last time, ‘I don’t want to hurt you’.

‘Well that only makes one of us!’ the old man replied loudly, again, with that commanding voice booming throughout the alleyway. He straightened up, revealing that he was in fact a whole head taller than the hired muscle who was attempting to escort him from the street a moment before. He had gripped the staff in his right hand tightly and it began to hum low and threateningly, the feet of the thug lifted off the ground and the now airborne man looked the old man in his glacial eyes in panic.

With minimal effort, the old man threw the thug across the alleyway into a building, where he was pressed with an invisible force. The younger brute in front of him, now wide-eyed took a step backwards as the four men still kicking Art looked up to see what the commotion was about.

‘Five’ the old man said, glaring at the young man that stood a few feet in front of him. I say stood, using past tense mostly because a second of two later, an invisible wind kicked his legs from underneath him, causing him to strike his head on the stone and extinguishing his consciousness out like a candle.

‘Four!’ the old man shouted, ‘we’re down to two on one now, boys, a little fairer, don’t you think?’

The four remaining men paid very little attention to the huddled mass on the ground below them, now they had a bigger, more dangerous threat.

The man stopped for a moment and thoughtfully adjusted his old grey hat, ‘actually, I’ve been thinking’ he said, mostly to himself, ‘since my friend here is unable to fight, I think it’s only fair for it to be four on one’. He smirked to himself, he’d always thought his mid-battle banter was second to none, ‘of course, it would only be fair to you, as there are four of you and only one, twisted old man, unable to defend himself’.

Two of the men drew daggers out and rushed towards the old man, who excited yelled ‘snakes!’ while wiggling his fingers in the air. The daggers turned into snakes in their hands, causing both of them to drop the startled reptiles on the ground. The two snakes paid little attention to the ensuing chaos and chose to disappear into a nearby gutter, no doubt confused and unsure of what had just happened.

‘Huh, how did you do that?’ one of the men shrieked, still looking at his hand, now absent of a dagger.

‘Quite simple, chaps!’ the old man replied, ‘they were never daggers in the first place!’

‘Stop playing around and get him!’ one of the senior thugs at the rear ordered, both did so with little hesitation.

The old man ducked under the first blow like water, flowing through and around the second blow from the other man. He was like greased lightning, with the fangs of a cobra. He jammed the end of his staff into the stomach of the first man, knocking him hard across the alleyway into the front window of a store that sold mostly bee-keeping goods and honey. With the second hit, he drove the staff into the man’s foot, pinning him to the ground. ‘You’re going to stay there’ he said menacingly while standing over the thug. It should be said that the this man was approximately twenty-seven, but he now felt like a four year old.

‘Three’ the old man said, continuing forward towards the two remaining men, ‘and two, I think it would be best if you leave now’.

‘No chance’ the bigger of the two said, ‘we have orders, this kid stole from our employer, and we were instructed to-‘

‘Kill him?’ the old man interrupted.

‘No, just send him a message’ the second, shorter man answered, ‘we were about done with him before you turned up’.

‘I can see that’ the man replied, looking over the taller brute’s shoulder at the bloodied mess on the ground, ‘it looked like you were just about done with him, my apologies’.

‘Apology accepted’ the taller of the two said, unsure why he had said it, ‘wait, I can’t have you turning up and hurting all of my men like this’.

‘Of course you can’t’ the man replied, rolling his eyes, ‘let’s have it then’.

The big man ran at the older, more frail foe, who had dropped low enough for the thug’s first blow to miss and force him off balance. The old man, now in an excellent position underneath his foe drove his shoulder up as well as his entire weight, flipping the thug over his shoulder. As the man took flight over his back, the old man drove his staff into the chest of him, in the same place Art had collided with him, and a thud, like thunder without sound sent him to the opposite end of the alleyway, near where one of his cronies had collided with the side of a shop.

‘One’ the old man said, once again returning to his full height.

The remaining thug stared at him with a slack jaw and fled from the alleyway.
The old man dusted off his jacket and turned his attention to the unconscious thug slumped through the front window of Oliver’s Apiary Supplies and Wares and plucked him out of a display of meshed helmets with an invisible hand. He gently lowered the man on his face in the gutter and waved a hand over the front window that quickly repaired itself. ‘Sorry, Oliver, old mate’ he said under his breath before making his way over to the young man on the ground.

He picked him up and carried him out of the alleyway, stepping over the slumped form of the largest of the thugs who’d unfortunately landed on his head. As far as he was concerned, it was up to the projectile to best determine the correct landing conditions, not his.

The next morning, Art woke up in a comfortable bed with a less than comfortable throbbing in his head. He tried to move but fresh pain screamed out from every inch of his bruised body, he stifled a cry.

‘Ah, you’re awake’ the hunched form said without looking back at him, Art could see that he wore a hat and was cooking something in a cauldron in a fireplace. A quick glance around the bare room told him very little, while also a lot: this man lived frugally and alone.

‘Who-argh-who are you?’ Art asked, wincing as he sat up.

The old man stood up, a towering rake of a man, and looked down at him kindly, ‘the names Zalaxus, Zeddevere Zalaxus’. In his hand was a cup, ‘you’ll need this, it’ll start mending your bones right away, it’ll hurt a little but you’ll fall asleep again, which will help with the pain’.

He handed the cup to Art, who sniffed it suspiciously, ‘I’m Artemus Rex, by the way’ he said between sips.

‘I know’ Zeddevere replied, ‘I’m one of those people who knows things’.

Art scrunched his nose up, ‘ugh, this is horrible!’ he said, forcing the old man to chuckle.

‘The best medicines are’ he said with a sly smile, his pale eyes twinkling in the soft light around the room, ‘come on now, drink it all up and you’ll wake up tomorrow feeling a million times better’.

Art tried to protest but he felt the corners of his mind tug at him, telling him it was time to sleep. He finished half of the cup before his head slumped forward on his chest.

Zeddevere, better known to his closest friends as “Zedd” sat peacefully in the corner on his favourite armchair, reading a book and smoking a pipe until the late hours of the morning.