The Pit (short fiction)

Wren & Hess
The age of gladiators was long over. No more fights to the death. No more warrior versus beast. No more lives offered up for the entertainment of the savage masses.
Not quite.
The guards stationed at the door surveyed Wren and Hess. Nobody liked constables visiting The Pit. Not The Pit’s managers, who knew it was bad for business. Not the Tower, which knew it was mostly a waste of time. Still, there were rules, and those rules, loose as they were, needed to be enforced. A reminder was due every now and then.
The guards reluctantly stepped aside, and Wren and Hess entered The Pit. It stank of sweat and blood and violence. The crowd cheered as two fighters battered each other in the sunken arena. No more axes or spears. Nothing but fists and flesh. The orc bruiser landed a crushing uppercut on his human opponent who fell over. The orc pounced on his staggered foe and commenced to rain more blows to the satisfied roars of the audience.
Wren and Hess went to the back, where the warriors waited between fights. The fighters cleared a path for them, but a lanky man stood in front of them. Gold John, so-named because of his habit of draping himself in so many gold chains he couldn’t stand straight, stabbed a finger at Wren.
“My boy hasn’t done nothing wrong,” said John. “He fought fair and square, and if you’re here to arrest him, you don’t have a leg to stand on.”
“Nobody’s here to arrest anyone,” said Wren. “We just need to ask a few questions.”
The massive ogre sitting on a bench in the back snorted. “It’s fine, John. They’re just doing their job.”
Gold John moved aside. It was understood that Wren would do the talking. The Pit put Hess on edge. His long tail whipped back and forth with sharp snaps and his frills straightened. He was always like that when they had to come down here.
“You’re Victus?” asked Wren of the ogre.
The blue-skinned giant nodded. “Is the kid all right?”
“He’ll live,” she said. “Lost an eye. Might lose a leg.”
Victus slumped. “Idiot.”
“Did anyone mention he pulled a knife on my fighter?” asked Gold John. “That’s against the rules.”
“Shut up, John.” Victus stared at his hands. They still sported the bloodied wrappings. “He was just a little guy.”
“Do you want to tell us what happened?” asked Wren.
“Like John said. He got a knife in there. I defended myself.”
He nodded to John who handed Wren the weapon. It was only a few inches of cheap steel.
“Is this it?” she asked.
“It’s still a weapon,” said Gold John. “It’s still against the rules.”
Wren gave the knife to Hess. “Doesn’t look like much of a threat against your fighter here.”
“Rules are rules,” said John. “And if we let someone pull that kind of thing without being punished, it’ll only get worse.”
“So you were punishing him?”
“Never said that. Don’t put words in my mouth.”
Victus grunted. “I did it. He broke the rules, and it pissed me off. I hit him, and he fell. And then I hit him again. And again. I heard him break, and I still hit him a couple more times.”
“That’s it. No more. You want to talk to my fighter, you call him to the Tower. We’re done here.”
Wren held up her hand. “Take it easy. We’re not here to arrest anyone. The kid pulled a knife, and things got out of control. The Tower accepts that will happen now and then. What I want to know is why this scrawny kid was in the arena with Victus anyway.”
“He paid. If you pay enough, you get your shot at the champ. Stupid kids come along all the time. Victus usually just gives them a smack and sends them on their way. No real harm done.”
“A couple of months ago, didn’t a challenger get his neck broken?”
“That was an accident,” said Gold John.
“I hit him too hard,” said Victus. “I didn’t mean to. They’re just so fragile.” He squeezed his hands into fists and closed his eyes.
“That challenger was this kid’s brother. He was here for revenge,” said Wren. “It’s clear he was at fault.”
“I want to press charges,” said Gold John.
“Shut up, John,” said Victus. “Tell the kid I’m sorry, all right. Tell him . . . just tell him that.”
Hess’s tail stopped swishing. He inhaled and flicked the air with his tongue.
“This place always reminds me of home. It’s the smell, just like my hatchery. They never gave us enough food. Let the strong survive. Earn your life. I was bigger than most. I managed. But there was another who was biggest. He was taken away to become a soldier. Never had a choice in it. I think of him sometimes. Never chose to be the strongest. Never had much of a choice at all. I got out. He probably died somewhere on some battlefield, fighting some other poor bastard over some stupid thing nobody cared about. And, sure, it wasn’t his choice, and maybe that comforted him. I’d like to think so.”
The cheers of the arena echoed through The Pit.
“Doesn’t change things. Doesn’t wash away the blood. Doesn’t give that kid his eye back. Doesn’t bring back his brother. But what’s done is done. But you weren’t hatched here, and the only thing keeping you here is you. You’re sorry? You tell him.”
Hess frowned.
“I really hate this place.”
They finished up, reassuring Gold John and Victus that charges were unlikely. It was ugly business, but all within what was acceptable for The Pit.
“Think he’ll do it?” asked Wren.
Hess shrugged. “Probably not.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Probably not.”
They left The Pit and its stink of dried blood behind.
Posted in Short Fiction | Leave a comment

Superheroes vs. The Real World

While Civil War is a solid move and one I actually like a bit more as I think about it, I think it’s important to remember that applying real world logic to superhero stories is tricky at best and silly at worst.
For one thing, in a world of superhumans, supervillains are bound to arise. When that happens, you need superheroes. They are not optional. They are a necessary bulwark against powerful individuals who can destroy worlds by blinking.
I love The Incredibles, but it gets around the “What happened to the supervillains?” question by simply not asking it. And there are supervillains in this world, as implied by Frozone and Mr. Incredible’s conversations and by the appearance of the Underminer at the end of the film. I don’t mind that the focus of the movie isn’t “What happens when supervillains are allowed to run unchecked?”, and I’m glad it doesn’t bother trying to answer the question. But for the idea of banning superheroes to work you have to imagine all the supervillains going away as well.
Even stories that deconstruct the superhero ideal usually do it by either A) having a world with relatively few superhumans and B) having a character go mad and eventually be stopped by another superhuman. Alan Moore’s Miracleman is indeed a horrific glimpse of a world with an incredibly powerful mass murderer. His rampage only ends when he’s killed by another superhuman. Dark? Yes. Anti-superhero? Sort of.
Civil War’s “damning” evidence of the danger of superheroes is all examples of heroes stepping up to prevent greater disasters. Nobody wants the Hulk running around unfettered, but when a giant space dragon attacks the city, you are ultimately glad he’s around. Even the opening action sequence of Civil War is about how Cap and his team prevent bad guys from escaping with a bioweapon and, in the process, eleven people are killed and others injured. That’s bad, but when you consider the number of people endangered by the bioweapon and the possible death toll of that explosion, you can see that the casualties are very low.
Which doesn’t mean our heroes shouldn’t be criticized. Cap doesn’t ever justify the loss of life and damage by pointing out the greater good. But in this fictional universe, it is irrefutable that our heroes (yes, even the Hulk) have proven to be an invaluable asset to the Earth.
Real life is a hell of a lot more complex. It’s interesting to explore these ideas in a fictional universe, but it doesn’t mean that the real world parallels are going to pan out. In a world where a man flies around in power armor and a supersoldier fights evil with the powers of a red, white, and blue shield, let’s not get too carried away about the needs of “reality”.
Keelah Se’lai
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,
Posted in Blog, Comic Books, Movies, Writing | 2 Comments

Editorially Mandated

It’s counter-intuitive for me to say this as an artist, but I don’t think the creators matter nearly as much for a shared universe as the editors and producers do.
Let’s face it. Artists have their own visions, their own styles, and those styles won’t always mesh well with one another. I still think that Man of Steel and BvS don’t work because they are too much of Snyder and Nolan’s viewpoint. They bring a very specific aesthetic to the screen, and while it might be pretty or spectacular or “deep”, it isn’t one that can work across multiple characters and long-term stories.
True, many of the golden age characters were created when the line between editor and artist was blurry, but much of what made that era great was a happy accident. People didn’t plan out these immense universe. They just sort of unfolded on their own.
That’s often why attempts to recreate these grand shared universes fall apart. It’s hard to play out in advance. It just sort of happens. You create a handful of characters and settings that slowly expand outward. The original Marvel Comics Universe and the Cinematic Universe both did this. Iron Man was a great jumping off point because if they’d gone right for Ant-Man or Thor or even Black Panther, they’d have most probably failed. But Iron Man is familiar enough and fantastic enough that he is a great introductory character.
And all along the way, the people behind the scenes have been keeping things on track. They’re not perfect. In much the same way I’m disgusted by BvS sacrificing Jimmy Olsen for no good reason, I’m annoyed that so far, the MCU has thrown away Crossbones, Baron Zola, and Von Strucker, all great characters that deserved to be treated better. But overall, a conscious effort is being made to create a shared continuity that holds together. And while the artists, writers, actors, etc, are a huge part of that, it’s the people behind the scenes that hold it together across multiple movie franchises.
Of course, there are already signs of fraying around the edges. Just as in the original comic book medium, stories are slowly being written that are there to advance other stories. Characters are being set up to have arcs further down the road. There’s always the risk that you’ll be looking so far down the road you won’t concentrate on making the current story satisfying. Civil War risks crossing that line, and I think (just barely) avoids it. The producers might be the thing keeping this all together, but they’re also just as likely to be the thing that tears it apart.
Seriously, I don’t read any mainstream Marvel comics because it’s impossible to invest in any storyline before it’s interrupted by a crossover event. So far, the movies have avoided that, and I’ll stick with them as long as they do. But it’s a balancing act.
Will the MCU eventually become too bloated, too continuity heavy, too difficult to make work? Yes. It’s happened in comics. It will happen here. But until then, I’m willing to ride this coaster wherever it goes.
And, hey Marvel folks behind the scenes, I’m ready and able to write that Devil Dinosaur movie when you need it. You know where to find me.
Keelah Se’lai
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,
Posted in Blog, Comic Books, Movies, Writing | Leave a comment

Q & A

Time to answer some writer-related questions because you have questions and I have answers. Usually.

@Ronsparks on Twitter asks:

When writing a novel do you plan the entire novel, scene-by-scene, before you write?

There’s this common wisdom that fiction writers come in two varieties: Plotters (those who plan everything out in advance) and Pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). Like most truths about creating art, it’s more of a general observation, but I don’t usually plot far in advance when writing my stories. I prefer to start at the beginning and explore. Sometimes, I have a greater idea of what’s coming and sometimes I don’t. But it’s rare that I have even half of it plotted out in my head before starting, and even rarer that I’ll stick to that plot if I do.

Posted in Blog, Writing | 1 Comment
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