Today I’m building on the work from the second day of Preptober by furthering my outline of A Shapeshifter, Cyborg, & Wisp.
It’s good I’m noticing that. I consider it a yellow light warning to re-evaluate my plot’s current structure.
Yet I don’t want to make any tweaks until I finish the first draft; otherwise, I’ll slip into an editing roil forever.
I know because I’ve done it before.
Last time, I looked at the first act, where character bios are established.
This time, I’m fleshing out the first half of the second act, when characters face obstacles that they overcome in the name of their Noble Quest.
A Shapeshifter, Cyborg, & Wisp: Act 2.1
- Chapter 7: Before Eleanora went into hiding as a lamplighter, she was a student under one of the greatest alchemists in the elfin kingdoms; but she had to hide her true nature while studying, and even then, she endured daily sexism. Despite these setbacks, she learned the basics of potion-making, including Stink in a Bottle, a skunk-stank in a flask. She uses this treasure from her past to protect Largest and Middleman, the will’o’wisps who want to return Lilli to the swamps. This will not be the last time she’ll rely on alchemy to uphold her Noble Quest of safety for herself and her loved ones; and every time she pushes herself beyond her threshold—all in the name of the Noble Quest—the ugly darkness of vengeance consumes her a little more.
- Chapter 9: In this chapter, Lutz reflects, “She thinks she spares me by not relying on me. I wish she would see how painful that really is.” Lutz wants to be the overseer of the world that, deep down, he knows he was born to become; but he can’t fulfill that Noble Quest until he earns the godly amount of respect required for him to ascend to dragon-form. As he fails to take care of Elly, she also simultaneously fails to trust him to take care of her; they’re both trapped in different insecurities. When Elly names Lutz, this opens the door to their relationship—just a crack of light—and this is all they need; Lutz knows it’s okay to try to help her again, because she cares about him, or she wouldn’t bother with the naming ritual. He just needs her to see him as a helper, not a child.
- Chapter 11: Elly can navigate forests because of her fey-blood; this means, as long as she’s in a forest, she has an advantage to fulfilling her Noble Quest of securing safety for her and her loved ones. Meanwhile, Lilli leaves noxious fumes to hide their scents from Middleman and Largest. Still, the fumes are not enough; Middleman finds them, and they only escape because of a magical helper, Melidor, firing a crossbow bolt into the will’o’wisp. Still, Melidor’s not a fan of fey; so when he recognizes he saved three of them, he’s taken aback. It’s only because of his companion, Zinnia—who adores fey, and wants to protect them, similar to Eleanora—that they’re invited to rest in the watchtower in the middle of the woods.
- Chapter 12: When Zinnia learns that Eleanora is an alchemist, she implores her to travel to Riverport to meet the alchemists responsible for the tonics that help humans survive the harsh, barely breathable climate. She explains there’s a shortage of alchemists, and anyone who can brew healing potions can save lives. Eleanora’s Noble Quest is activated: does she secure the safety of a fey renegade fey, or the safety of a much larger body of people?
- Chapter 14: Lutz is eating fish with Graffagar and Ben when other villagers join them, including Yolanda, “a retired dragon-hunter,” and Kivan, “a hunter of venison.” They talk about “trading, taxes, and pollution,” and Lutz secures some of the acceptance he wanted earlier; still, he doesn’t want to be a child or a conversational equal—he truly desires a life as an overseer. A watcher. A managerial helper. Meanwhile, Elly shapeshifts in cameo to follow Ben, after she notices him stepping out in the middle of the night. Once he thinks he’s alone, she watches him open his chest and pour a healing potion in. Now she knows he’s a potion-powered cyborg.
- Chapter 15: Lilli fantastizes over having her own bog to rule, but something more amazing than a swamp is happening: she’s learning how to drain negative emotions from others to make them feel better. One of her practice runs happens when Lutz talks about eating grubs in the forests, and Elly gags with disgust and distress. Lilli says, “I’m getting better at pulling tendrils of emotions away…I’ve restricted my diet to Elly’s feelings, and only when Lutz is far enough away…It works for now.” Note Lilli glows green when she devours happiness and purple when she devours fear. In Lilli’s dreams, she remembers her overworked mother and siblings, and how they were occupied with men when she drowned in the bog. Lilli doesn’t want to go back to that life. She’s learning to live in the moment, as well as alleviate the feelings from others that prevent them from living in the moment, too.
- Chapter 16: Elly’s backstory reveals that her mother was a human who told her about the “grey-clouded cities, full of pulley-systems lifting coal up the sides of sooty buildings, stories high,” and this is part of why she leans into helping a bustling city of humans, as well as figuring out what’s up with Ben’s cyborg body. She’s exploring the non-fey side of her, beyond the courts of her father’s wife, Esmeralda the Fey-Queen, and further from the woods than the courts of her ex in the elfin lands. While Elly’s piecing together why her Noble Quest of securing safety extends from fey to the human world, Lutz is gagging over the filth of the human city; he’s by far the most disgusted by how much damage humans have caused to nature.
- Chapter 17: Ben describes Eleanora as “miss golden-hair, lanky-arm, mother-hen fey,” before showing how perceptive he is of human behavior by citing several instances where she acted irrationally, due to anxiety and fear. He wakes up early, drinking tea, trying to remember when his parents “dug me up like a turnip and called me theirs. At least…, I think I was buried in the sand? I can never quite remember,” revealing his memory issues—the obstacle that will continue to get in the way of his Noble Quest to break out of the codependent relationship he shares with Tanya and Saerun and lead an autonomous life. He also, randomly, mentions that he has a cat (Buttercup) because he doesn’t have to worry about her being alone for a couple days while he mans the watchtower; yet he’s not sure how Melidor, who has two birds, manages to stay at the watchtower for long shifts. Lastly, he mentions that his parents adopted Zinnia several years after him. She’s normally in school, except she’s on break right now, spending time at the watchtower instead. Mel’s parents, friends of Saerun and Tanya, believe that fey are deceptive; and that can make it awkward for a phoenix and cyborg, like Zinnia and Ben—also non-humans.
- Chapter 18: Elly nearly reveals that she knows about Ben’s cyborg chest after he scratches himself, and the distinct crinkly sound disrupts their meal. He shows Lutz the papery skin of his wound, “thin, artificial skin [that] glitters with the same iridescent blue as the rest of him, only more noticeably.” Then this information-packed scene happens:
“It does sound like paper,” I reply. “How’d you injure your chest?”
He shrugs. “Guard duty stuff.”
Checkmate, Ben. I can’t ask him if he’s willing to take off the rest of his woolen tunic in the smattering rain, just to show me what stuff means.
Lutz asks, “What’s artificial skin made out of?”
“Dragon scale,” Ben says.
I add in a low tone, “Just like how most potions require dragon blood.”
“Dragons are essentially made of magic,” Ben says. “Even more than fey.”
“I thought they’re rare?” Lutz replies.
“On this side of the Skyward Mountains,” I tell him. “Centuries ago, the elves, fey, and humans entered a loose alliance to drive reptilian races out of the Eight Kingdoms—the three lands of the elves, three woods of the fey, and two castles of men—but beyond this coastal empire, deeper inland, dragons still rule the roost, along with lizardmen and dwarves.”
“So they can be common,” Ben adds.
“I wonder what it’s like to be a dragon.” Lutz is still inspecting Ben’s exposed blue skin, adjusting his glasses. “I don’t think I’d want to be a lizardman or dwarf.”
“You wouldn’t be either of those creatures,” I stammer.
Sometimes I baffled by how much he knows in one matter, and how little he’s learned in others, but then, there’s only so much you can learn on your own, scrying through pools. This is why, in Tiranoc, my lessons weren’t just visual, but written, auditory, and kinesthetic. This is why I fell in love with books.
“But I’ve been a tree,” Lutz says. “Laces of moss; the fungi near the water; and birds who nested high.”
“Those are all creatures of the Forbidden Woods,” Ben says. “Also, you were fungus? That’s…different.”
I narrow my eyes. Ben, on the other hand, regularly surprises me with what he knows. How learned is this man who spends his days in watchtowers?
Shouldn’t more knowledgeable men serve as scribes, librarians, and politicians, instead of guards?
“Dragons aren’t ever from the forest?” Lutz asks.
“Not anymore,” I reply. “We killed them.”
Lutz gapes. “You did?”
“Not me specifically,” I say. “I think my father might’ve been part of it.”
“The Hunt,” Ben starts, and now I know he is schooled well. “About a hundred years ago, the last of the Hunt drove the dwarves into the Great Desert.”
“Fey do not come back to life in places dry of green,” I say. “So if you died there, you wouldn’t come back, as you do now.”
As I expected, the second act is also riddled with character backstory; but this is because I don’t like info-dumping.
Instead, I was trying to oscillate between background and current events to avoid a slow beginning. In the process, I wrote a wee messy.
The prep work here will help with clean-up later, once the first draft is finished. I’m excited to see where the creativity leads!