On the Hunt

Here’s this week’s #BlogBattle entry for “Hindered,” a continuation from last week’s episode in which Teagan killed Birgitte, the vampire Brood Mother who enslaved Grant to fulfill a task for the enigmatic Viscount Tarvinthian: opening an ancient prison of sunlight holding something at bay.

Genre: Adventure/Action (1,498 words)

Update: Thanks to those who voted and made this the winning story for the week!


From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Cartographer of Uncharted Domains, Champion Pugilist, and Collector of Priceless AntiquitiesAccompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Teagan dashed between gravestones and family reliquaries, constantly checking over her shoulder in her mad flight—even though it led to several painful collisions. The wind whipped through her red hair, and the humid mist filled her lungs, making each stride a strain. Her sides burned and her legs screamed, but she gritted her teeth and pressed on.

If I pause for a breath, they’ll be on me in an instant. And I don’t think I can resist a second time.

The memory of the smooth ivory face and piercing eyes washed over her and she almost stumbled. Just a glance from one of Tarvinthian’s progeny and she’d nearly succumbed. Teagan could no longer hold anger or jealousy toward Grant about his year-long escapade while enthralled by Birgitte, the Brood Mother. Younger vampires took hours or even days to turn a mortal to their will. But for these ancients, the allure of their mere presence seemed sufficient to draw Teagan under their thrall.

She felt the tingle throughout her body, the urge to give in, to turn and offer herself—arms extended, head raised to the cloudy night sky, neck exposed to cold air—

The breeze chilled her skin and she blinked, then realized she’d stopped and assumed the position she imagined. “No,” she howled into the night, fists clenched. “You twisted monsters, find a weaker mind!”

Three humanoid forms came into view, bounding across the earth and sky like a pack of predators on the hunt. Teagan turned and ran.

A battered chapel lay ahead, the dim light within a welcome sign of refuge. Hopefully Grant had done his part. Hopefully Birgitte’s ‘daughters’ aren’t pursuing him either. I don’t want him to be the weak-willed man they find.

She scrambled up the cracked wooden steps and tugged on the heavy doors. Grass rustled behind her, the vampire’s footfall soft even from dozens of feet in the air. Teagan froze and shut her eyes, focusing on the silent approach of a curious sensation. Her will began to buckle under the enormous weight and incessant pull toward this supernatural being. Had she tried to run, her feet would betray her, leaden and obstinate as if her boots had been nailed to the floorboards. If she looked on that face again—that glorious, radiant face—she would succumb and be his.

Her heartbeat thudded in her chest and she knew he must hear it, must sense the rich blood flowing through her veins, the life force that could feed his insatiable hunger, the captive will that wanted to do nothing else…

The wood behind her creaked under his weight. Teagan snatched the sawed-off shotgun from the holster on her leg and fired it blind over her shoulder. Flaming bits of dried, minced and powdered garlic sprayed from the barrel, and the thing shrieked.

The spell broken, Teagan turned, raised the gun toward the ravaged, peppered face, and pulled the trigger. Lust and hunger forgotten, the creature’s eyes blazed with fury and hatred for an instant before the golden cloud of garlic blurred Teagan’s view. Then it fell to the ground, screaming and clawing at tattered flesh.

Teagan traded the shotgun to her left hand and slipped a silver crucifix from her belt into her empty palm. At the foot of the cross, the silver extended into a point like a railroad spike. “The Lord rebuke you, fiend,” Teagan said, and jammed the holy ornament into the vampire’s back.

It howled and thrashed across the ground, fleeing her wrath. But two others alighted on the grass near the chapel, their stern gazes devoid of mercy.

Teagan ducked inside, hoping ancient sacred ground might slow their pursuit. A priest stood before the altar, chanting warding prayers in Latin with a rich, sonorous tone. As the last syllable left his mouth, the atmosphere changed. The misty gloom and dread Teagan felt vanished in the soft glow of candles and an inner warmth of hope.

The priest turned to Teagan and smiled. “It seems to have worked. I’m honestly surprised. I don’t believe anyone has sung that canticle in many years.”

“Father MacCleary,” Teagan gushed, “it’s been too long. So good of you to come.”

“So good to see you again, Miss O’Daire,” he said, “even if you no longer wear the nun’s habit.”

Teagan pursed her lips, but sensed no judgment intended. “Not a very good sheep, I’m afraid. Never been willing to stay in the pen.”

MacCleary nodded. “I know, lass. But praise be that the Good Shepherd is ever willing to travel far and wide to find the one who goes astray.”

Something raked the wooden walls, and a window shattered as a chunk of gravestone flew through the stained glass. A pale face with glowing eyes peered inside before skittering into the darkness.

“The Good Shepherd’s not the only one chasing me tonight, Father,” Teagan said. “But they don’t seem willing or able to breach your spiritual defenses. So yes, praise be.” She looked over the less mystical preparations Grant had made during the day, and smiled. He had done well.

“Alas for Mister McSwain,” Father MacCleary said, “caught out in all that danger.”

Distant shotgun blasts rang out in the night, and Teagan laughed. “Don’t waste your worry on him. If I know Grant, he’s loving every moment of this.”

“Well, he can have it all,” MacCleary said with a forced laugh. “I still don’t want to believe this is happening. On a chill night such as this, I would much prefer a cup of tea and reading the Good Book by candlelight in the comfort of my parish.”

“You’ll be back to your disciplines before you know it, Father. Your help tonight may well save not just our lives but the souls of many potential victims.”

Another window shattered, and stone crashed into a dusty wooden pew. Father MacCleary and Teagan both spun toward the sound. Then Teagan sighed with relief. “All they can do is hurt the look of the place.”

More shotgun blasts echoed in the night, closer than the first. More unearthly shrieks, too, and a hearty laugh. Grant must be alright. Teagan stared blankly through the broken window into the night, her hands absently turning her holy medallion between her fingers.

Then an oppressive and palpable darkness swept through the chapel. The walls shook and groaned like a tremor passed through the earth. Thunder boomed and the thick wooden doors flew apart in splinters.

Tarvinthian himself stood at the doorframe, decked in a fine burgundy tuxedo as if attending a lavish ball. His beady eyes stared down his hawkish nose at Teagan and Father MacCleary. Then he brushed the tails of his coats back and cracked his fingers like a maestro about to perform.

The vampire lord stepped into the sanctuary, his motion slow and labored, though his face showed no sign of strain. Bands of light flickered, wrapping around like invisible cords resisting his pale skin and dark suit. He took another step and the bands flashed brighter, stretching his clothing across his torso and limbs. The intermittent flashes became constant as Tarvinthian forced his way forward.

The wards snapped, and the doorframe and surrounding wall crumbled with a thunderclap. Tarvinthian raised an eyebrow. “Impressive, priest. I haven’t dealt with such a hindrance in over a century.”

Father MacCleary stammered and shrank back toward the altar, his white-knuckled fingers wrapped around a rosary.

“Pray all you like,” Tarvinthian said, “but you needn’t fear. I am not here for you, man of a so-called God. Nor for the one killing my children outside—though I will end him.”

His gaze fell upon Teagan, and his cracked, deathly lips parted like rotted cloth. “I am here for you, the one who dared to slay Birgitte–a very goddess. My goddess.”

Teagan fought the fear rising in her and stood firm in the front of the sanctuary. Her hands twitched, demanding in panic that she draw her shotgun or at least another crucifix—anything to defend herself as Tarvinthian steadily advanced.

Then he stepped on the loose floorboard where Grant had placed the trigger. Beneath the sanctuary, a latch released the line once held taut, which led behind the altar and up the inside of the bell tower’s base. Released from its bond, the rope hissed through metal loops toward a massive wooden spike soaked in holy water, mounted on a spring-loaded beam attached to the ceiling.

The spike swung through the center aisle in a blur and impaled Tarvinthian where he stood. His flesh smoldered where the wood touched it, and he bellowed in agony.

Teagan drew her shotgun, then advanced on her prey. “That’s right. I slew your goddess. And I’m not done yet.”

She leveled the gun at his face and fired.

Single Ladies

Two days ago I posted about some outrage from religious groups toward the movie Frozen. They claim the story pushes a “homosexual agenda” on children, and their proof, among other things, is that Queen Elsa never goes after any of the men in the film.

I talked about why I thought they got that impression, and then presented the very different message I found in the movie.

But the fact this is even up for discussion leads me to a question, one borne out of purely selfish motives. In order to tell a story that is both compelling and marketable, in light of this sort of debate, I have to ask:

Does the heroine need a hero? Does the female lead require a love interest?

The “compelling” part is easily dealt with. A story needs whatever makes it work, whatever gives it power. Effort spent jamming a hackneyed romance into a story will be obvious, through a hollow feeling, a lack of resonation with the audience, or an eye-rolling “This character is stupid” reaction from a reader.

The wise editor and skillful writer can look at parts of a work-in-progress critically, seeing when some subplot does too little to advance the overall narrative. Every word counts, and must earn its keep. Maybe the part that gets cut is a romance, maybe it’s a really cool action sequence, maybe it’s entire characters getting merged into one. There’s only so much time in a movie, so many pages in a book.

The more difficult question is how a work will be received by the market. Disney’s princess movies are known for a formula. The princess meets a prince. With his help, she overcomes her internal conflict, resolves the external problem, and they live happily ever after. Now, they’ve stepped away from the formula a bit with Brave and Tangled. But apparently Frozen went too far, despite the romance between Princess Anna and Kristof. After all, Queen Elsa never shows interest in any man…

Because the story isn’t about her falling in love.

Consider some of other movies (and books) with a female lead: Hunger Games and Divergent.

Even though both leads fall in love over the course of their respective trilogies, Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior give the distinct impression that they can handle things without Peeta or Four, thank you very much. Both are concerned with staying alive in an unfamiliar situation. Neither goes into their adventure searching for a man, because that’s not the theme of the story. Instead, they meet and bond with allies, who through shared adversity become something more.

The authors fit romances in, and that weaves nicely into the plot, giving added conflict and tension as characters’ goals diverge (hehe). The stories aren’t dependent on their romantic arcs. They can be just as compelling without that element.

But the romance boosts the books’ marketability. Some readers might not care about a dystopian setting, but they’ll look past that to read a coming-of-age story they can relate to. Some readers might not care for either of those all that much, but they’ll take it alongside a plot of budding romance. And some readers might just be catching up on the books in order to understand the movie – or better yet, to avoid a years-long wait to find out what happens next.

I said I had a selfish motive. When this controversy about Frozen first “came out,” one of my first thoughts was my current writing projects. One book series has two female leads. Another has a female lead. None of the three have love interests (at this moment in writing drafts and planning).

Is that wrong? I don’t think so.

In fact, the thought of conjuring up a lovely face to accompany them, stuffing scenes and chapters in to create romantic tension and bonding… that feels wrong.

None of those characters are interested in romance during the timeframe of the story. When your world is falling apart, love isn’t always your first thought.

That’s not saying it can’t happen. Certainly it can, and it works in a lot of stories as one element, perhaps even the main theme.

But that leads right back to the original question: What’s the point of the story?

Once I know that, I write what fits and cut the rest. (ideally)

Back to Frozen, can you imagine fitting a romance for Elsa into that plot line without taking away from the impact of the sisterly bond at the center of the story?

One of the bloggers at the center of this controversy responded to some of her critics. And she quoted a friend, Jonathan Wilson, who took a reasonable stance:

“Frozen can certainly be successfully applied as an allegory for homosexual struggle. The authors may or may not have had that in mind when they wrote it. But Frozen is good enough art to rise above a specific allegorical meaning. It demonstrates broad applicability to many different human experiences. That is why it appeals to so many people.”

Remember, entertainment has to be marketable. A wide variety of stuff can be covered by this blanket.

Art is compelling. That means the field narrows significantly, and the artist keeps only what fits.