Short Story. The Challenger. (Enneagram 8)

Louis checked his watch. Thirty-three minutes he’d been waiting in the hospital lobby. Two more and he’d pester the nurses again. And every five minutes after that until he got what he came for.
He hadn’t managed to sit once during the wait. It was too easy to think when he wasn’t moving. Too easy to dwell on the past. Moving was better for him; it put him in better control of his emotions.
“Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist exactly ninety seconds later.
“Your mother will be out shortly,” the receptionist told him, not bothering to look up from her computer.
“She’s my neighbor,” Louis said, rapping his fingers on her desk “How shortly?”
The woman rolled her eyes away from her computer, not an ounce of patience left in them. “I’ll know when you know, sir. Now you can take a seat while you wait.”
“I’ll stand,” Louis said, turning away from her desk as she rolled her eyes at him again, but he didn’t mind. As far as he was concerned, she could roll her eyes at him a thousand times as long as she did her job.
It was another seven minutes before his neighbor finally rolled through the doors.
“What are you doing here, Louis?” Pam asked as her attendant pushed her across the lobby.
“I’m here to drive you home,” he said, feeling more like a parent than he had in some time.
“I didn’t need you to pick me up,” Pam snapped, her lips curled in a frown. “I’m perfectly capable of calling for a ride.”
“Don’t be stubborn,” Louis snapped back. “I’m here to help you home.”
“You’re here to baby a woman twenty years older than you,” Pam sighed. “And I don’t need babying. I’ll find my own way home, thank you.”
Her attendant glanced back and forth between Pam and Louis, unsure of how to proceed. “We kind of need this chair.”
Pam scoffed, pushing herself up from the wheelchair. “Take it then, I told you I didn’t need it in the first place.”
The attendant bowed his head, avoiding both of their eyes as he escaped down the hallway.
“Please, Pam,” Louis said, some of the fight leaving his voice. “I told Beatrice I would bring you back.”
“Your wife doesn’t care who picks me up, Louis,” Pam said. “You’re the one who treats me like your child.”
Louis visibly flinched at the barb. Pam didn’t know the whole story, but she knew enough to make him hurt.
Pam realized what she’d said too late, recognizing the pain in his eyes. “Fine,” she said, relenting. “You can drive me home.”
Louis nodded, solemn as he lead her to his car. It was a long walk. Too long to spend with someone in complete silence, but that’s exactly what they did.
“Did you tell them about the pills?” Louis asked once they’d gotten in the car.
“Yep,” she said, buckling her seat belt.
Louis eyed her suspiciously. “And?”
“And they’ve assigned me someone to talk to,” Pam said, exasperated. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
Louis bit his lip, swallowing his response as he pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m glad,” he said eventually.
“Good,” she replied. “So now you don’t have to keep checking in on me.”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“It’s not your job to make sure I’m okay,” she said. “I hardly know you, Louis. We weren’t friends then, and we aren’t now.”
“Theo was my friend,” Louis snapped, strangling the steering wheel. “That makes you my friend too.”
“No it doesn’t,” Pam said, her voice quiet as she rested her head on the car seat. “I don’t know you. I don’t know Beatrice. And there’s nothing either of you can do to help me through this.”
Suddenly, Louis pulled to the side of the road, throwing on his hazards. “Yes there is,” he said, looking her in the eyes for the first time. “I can remind you that you’re not alone. I can drive you to and from the freaking hospital, and I can fight for you even when you’ve given up on yourself. Because that’s what Theo would do.”
A single tear fell down Pam’s cheek. “You’re not Theo.” She said, her voice raising. “It’s not your job to fight for me. You’re not Theo. You will never be Theo!”
“I know what it’s like to lose someone, Pam. What it’s like to be suddenly stripped of purpose. To lose all direction in life.” Pam’s heart beat faster, her tears falling harder.
“Beatrice still cries every night,” Louis said, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “Three years later and she cries every night, because time doesn’t change the fact that we can’t hold our daughter. We can’t kiss her and watch her grow up, and no one can change that. But guess what? We can still remember her. And love her.”
“I remember Theo every minute of every day,” Pam whispered through the tears. “I’ve never stopped loving him.”
“And he never stopped loving you,” Louis whispered back. “But you stopped loving you, Pam. And I’m going to keep reminding you that your loved until you remember it yourself.”
Pam smiled through the tears, and in that moment, felt Theo’s love as clearly as if he had never left. “I’m sure you were a great father,” she said once her tears had dried.
Louis managed a weighted smile. “Only because I’ve been able to practice on you. You really bring out my overprotective instincts.”
Pam scoffed. “You don’t need an excuse to be overprotective.”
Louis smiled wide as he pulled back onto the road. “See, you do know me.”
Both of them chuckled at that, a weight lifted from both of their shoulders as they made their way back from the hospital.
“Louis?”
“Yeah,” he said, eyes focused on the road.
“Can you actually bring me somewhere else?”

Draco. Chapter 45. Fearless.

Shean locked eyes with Allie as Stephen’s blade pierced his skull. He’d never had a family before. No one to die for until Allie.
He had just enough time to smile before everything went dark. Wind rushed past his ears as he fell. Then nothing.

——

Allie reach out to catch Shean, but he was too far away. There was nothing she could do for him anyway. He was dead as he fell, a small smile etched on his face.
Stephen flipped the knife in his hand and threw it at Allie. She saw the knife just in time, throwing herself flat against Claire.
Anger overtook her as the knife passed over her shoulder, biting into Claire’s hide.
With a shout, she threw herself at Stephen, attempting to tackle him off of his dragon. She managed to wrap an arm around his neck, throwing all of her weight into the chokehold.
“Traitor,” he hissed as he broke her hold with a sweep of his arm, following up with an elbow to her jaw.
Her vision darkened for the briefest of moments as she rolled backward down his dragon’s back.
Just then, both of the dragons rolled, still grappling for dominance. Claire was worn down, but unburdened by Allie’s weight as she tore at the other dragon.
As the dragons rolled, Allie was nearly thrown clear of the fight, but barely managed to grab hold of the dragon’s leg.

——

Camore and Horn reluctantly let their wild dragons go, forced to follow Stephen’s orders. They had new enemies to worry about, turning to face the swarm of Claimed flying toward them.
The four riders carrying torches flew straight toward Camore. None of them engaged right away, taking their time in sizing him up.
Jade was one of them, riding on Jade’s back. She carried a blazing torch as she circled Camore, looking for an opening to attack. Three others held similar torches, including Draco, who’d commandeered one of the guard’s horses.
Their four torches were the only ones they’d managed to scrounge up before rushing in to attack, making them the only chance of taking down Camore.
Patty climbed higher into the sky to avoid Camore’s tail just as Draco’s horse slammed into Camore’s side.
With a lunge, Draco dragged his torch across Camore’s wing, attempting to set it on fire. But before it could catch, Camore spun, knocking the torch out of Draco’s hand while simultaneously snapping the head off of a guard with its teeth. His torch went out as he fell through the sky.
Patty saw the opening, bringing Jade down hard on Camore’s head. Jade slashed at its back as Patty jabbed her torch into its face.
Camore let out a roar as it raked its claws across Jade’s body, flinging her off of him before Patty’s torch could set him aflame.
Camore spun, following Patty as if to finish the job, but Draco interfered, slamming his horse down on its back. The horse clawed deep past Camore’s scales just as the fourth guard faced the dragon head on.
Foolishly, he flung his torch at Camore’s face.
Furious, the dragon pumped its wings, knocking Draco off balance just as Camore snapped the other guard in half.
Draco’s horse launched away from Camore, joining Jade as they circled the dragon. Patty’s was the only torch left.

——

Horn dove in and out of the Earth, picking off his enemies one by one. Serenity rode a lion, forced to hover above the ground where Horn last disappeared.
“We can’t hit him hard enough!” Frank yelled from the back of his horse. “Not while he’s using the ground as protection.”
“Be patient,” Serenity yelled back. “Ground or not. Dragon or not, we have to try.”
Just then, Horn exploded from the ground, wrapping its jaws around the last remaining guard and dragging him back underground.
Serenity and Frank climbed higher in the air with their Claimed, watching the Earth for signs of movement.
For seconds. Minutes, there was silence as Horn waited for the Serenity and Frank to move closer to the ground. Close enough for him to surprise with an attack, but they maintained their distance.
Finally, Horn emerged, clearly agitated as it flew at its enemies. Frank intercepted the dragon, letting Serenity fly higher into the sky.
Horn snapped at Frank’s horse, roaring in aggravation as Frank led him on a narrow chase. All the while, Serenity climbed higher, watching for her moment.
Eventually, when she deemed they’d climbed high enough, she urged her lion downward, gaining momentum as they sped toward the dragon.
Frank repeatedly spun in the air, barely managing to avoid Horn’s claws as Serenity barreled toward him.
Just before Serenity arrived, Horn caught Frank in his claws. Frank was ripped from his Claimed, thrown to the air just as Serenity’s lion slammed into Horn’s head.
The lion was half as big as Horn and had hit him with as much force as she could muster, but Horn was unfazed.
Horn spun in the air with Serenity and her lion still attached. Then, catching them off guard, he plunged toward the ground, slamming Serenity into the Earth.

——

Stephen’s dragon roared, trying to shake Allie free from its leg as Claire bit at its neck.
Allie’s arms shook with the strain of holding on to the dragon, all too aware that she wouldn’t be able to hold much longer.
Stephen frowned at her, but made no effort to reach her as she clung to his dragon’s legs. Instead, he gazed into the distance, communicating with his dragons.
Suddenly, Stephen’s dragon managed to twist itself around Claire, breaking her hold on him. Then, with a sickening crunch, he sunk his teeth into Claire’s neck.
Claire immediately sunk through the air, limp.
Then, able to hold on no longer, Allie feel through the air after her.
With a satisfied grin, Stephen left them to fall and steered his dragon through the clouds, eager to deal with Drumond and Sarah personally.

——

Camore flew right at Patty, identifying her torch as the last remaining threat.
Patty and Jade dove underneath the dragon, twisting in the air in an attempt to avoid the dragon’s wrath, but Camore was too fast.
The dragon managed to hook Jade with one of its claws, yanking them to the side with a force that nearly knocked Patty off of her back. Even as she struggled to stay on Jade, Patty tried to catch Camore’s leg with the torch, but the flame wouldn’t take.
With gritted teeth, Draco flew straight into Camore’s leg, trying to break its hold on Jade, but his horse wasn’t strong enough.
Camore flapped its wings in a fury, twisting its neck around just enough to catch Draco’s horse in its teeth. Then, with a twist of its jaws, it flung the horse to the side.
Draco jumped just in time to catch Jade, pulling himself up next to Patty as his horse fell through the air.
“Give me the torch,” he said, breathless.
Patty pressed her trembling lips firmly together. “But… I can fight. I’m not going to go hide. Not this time.”
“I know you can fight,” Draco said, watching as Camore reared its head back, preparing to bite into Jade next. “You’re so brave, little one. Your mom would be proud.” And with that, he snatched the torch from her hand and lit himself on fire.
Ignoring Patty’s look of horror, he leaped onto Camore as the flames took hold, climbing up its leg.
The move caught Camore off guard, shocking it into hesitating, its jaws poised over Jade and Patty. With a roar, it tried to bite at Draco instead, but it couldn’t quite reach him.
With the flame now roaring around Draco’s body, Camore’s leg finally caught on fire, slowly at first, and then quickly spreading down its body.
In searing pain, Draco forced himself to keep climbing, working his way up Camore’s torso until he finally reached its head.
Soon, Camore’s entire body was covered in flames. Only then did he finally release Jade from his clutches. All four of them fell through the sky. Patty and Jade in pain. Draco and Camore in flames.

——

Stephen broke through the clouds just as Camore burst into flames, falling through the sky.
With a snarl, he flew past the dying dragon, forcing himself to focus on Horn instead. Only two of his dragons remained, but with Claire out of the fight, his enemies had none. He intended to make sure it stayed that way.
Suddenly, Horn emerged from the ground with a victorious roar. Behind him, both Frank and Sarah were sprawled on the ground, their bodies actively trying to mend themselves back together.
Stephen landed his dragon next to their bodies. “Good boy, Xaen,” he said as he slid to the ground.
As he looked down at Frank and Sarah’s beaten bodies, he was surprised to find mixed emotions welling up inside him. Relief at the victory, and yet disappointment as well.
Years spent in pursuit of absolute freedom, and it he finally had it. Earned through the blood of his fellow gods and their pets. It had taken far too long to accomplish, and yet… it felt unfinished. He was unsatisfied. And as he stared down at Serenity’s slowly healing body, he realized why.
It wasn’t enough to have freedom. He needed revenge. And with that realization, he allowed himself to breathe more easily. Yes, revenge. And he was about to take it.
Feeling more sure of himself, he grabbed Serenity’s unconscious body and dragged it on top of Xaen. “Now for Drumond,” he said as he flew back into the sky, Horn at his side.

——

Allie blacked out as she hit the ground. Distant in her consciousness, she felt her body break at the impact of the fall.
Then she felt nothing. Thought nothing. Time was eternal, and yet had stopped. Then, eventually, light broke through.
Words, thoughts, and images reformed in her mind as she fought to stand. Her muscles trembled, but held enough to climb to her knees. Then she managed to open her eyes.
Claire stirred next to her, mere feet away. Allie could feel her pain as she stumbled toward her. Her dragon let out a pitiful roar as she rose her neck, muscles trembling more visibly than Allie’s.
“Take your time,” Allie whispered, gently laying her hand on Claire’s wing. “The fight is already lost.”
Claire let herself back to the ground, following Allie’s advice in preserving her energy. It wasn’t until that moment that Allie noticed the mound laying several paces past Claire.
The heap was colored just like the ground, camouflaged as it recovered its strength. The wild dragon Allie had saved from Stephen.
Hope flared within Allie as she was hit with the realization. She had the opportunity to continue the fight. All she had to do was Claim the struggling dragon.
Making her decision, she sprinted toward the dragon, her chest tight with anticipation. Her body rebelled against her, protesting the limits of its health, but she refused to listen, pushing herself to catch the dragon before it was too late.
The dragon raised its head, alert, just as Allie leaped onto its back. And with all of her strength, she held her hand against its head, attempting to force a bond.

——

The sound of their impact was the only thing that alerted Draco to the fact that they’d hit the ground. The rest of his senses were blinded by the pain of the flames, and yet he still clung to the bonfire called Camore.
Jade pumped her wings, managing to slow their fall just before crashing into the ground next to them. One of her legs snapped as they hit, the impact of the fall throwing Patty from her back.
Draco forced himself to crawl, every motion pure agony as his body fought the flames. Blindly, he clawed his way forward. With every pull against the dragon’s scales, he tricked himself, convinced that the next pull would bring him free of the fire. The next. And the next.
He had nearly fallen unconscious by the time he managed to finally pull himself free of Camore. He would have never realized except for falling off of Camore and onto the cracked Earth. The flames ate at his body all the same, refusing to let him recover.
“I suppose I should thank you for going out with a fight,” Stephen said, kicking dirt over Draco. “It would have been disappointing any other way.”
The flames enveloping Draco began to die as Stephen continued to kick dirt over him.
“I’m quite tempted to let you burn,” Stephen continued, “and I still just might. But I haven’t come all this way just to stab you in the back. No, I want to watch your eyes fade as you die.”
As Stephen continued to layer Draco with dirt, he became increasingly aware of his aching body. Feeling returned to his limbs as he became acutely aware of the searing flames.
Finally, the fire died down enough that Draco regained control of his eyes. When he opened them, he found himself laying face-up, looking at Stephen’s menacing grin, Xaen and Horn framing the sky behind him.
Then Stephen raised his knife.
Stephen’s grin grew wider. “Did Miguel tell you, Drumond? I was hoping he might.”
Draco tried to roll to the side, but his muscles had yet to reform, still fighting the active flames.
“A glass blade,” Stephen said. “Made special for the king.”
Then, with a steady hand, Stephen brought the knife down to Draco’s chest, resting the tip of the blade on his half-exposed heart.
“You’ve had your run,” Stephen whispered. “It’s my turn, but don’t you worry. I’ll take care of your wife for you.”
Draco tensed, his eyes widening as he tried to move his arms, hardly managing to raise them off the ground.
Stephen laughed, pressing the glass blade so it cut into his heart. A shallow cut, bringing a slow bleed.
Suddenly, the Earth shook with a chorus of roars.

——

Allie flew Claire over the fire, aimed directly at Stephen and Draco. Physically, Claire was weak, not fully recovered from her injuries, but Allie could feel the rage flowing through her. She was ready to fight.
Beside her flew Bael, her new dragon, equally ready to fight as he fed off of her emotions.
Before Stephen’s dragons could rise to meet them, Allie leaped off of Claire, landing directly on Stephen’s back.
As she threw everything she had into her chokehold, her dragons clashed with Stephen’s head-on. Bael thrashed at Horn as Claire wrestled with Xaen. The last of the standing dragons.

——

Serenity was thrown off of Xaen as he launched himself into the sky. Half-conscious, she attempted to catch herself as she hit the ground, but to no avail.
Her body was still healing where Stephen had injured it, done in the attempt to keep her subdued, but he had left her alone for too long.
Slowly, she climbed to her feet, stumbling in the process.
Looking around her, she found a pile of flames littering the sky-line with dragons clashing overhead. But what most caught her attention was Stephen stumbling backward as he fought to free himself from Allie’s grasp.
Then Draco rose from the ground, looking paler than she’d ever seen him.
As soon as she saw him, she found herself running, gaining momentum as her body healed.

——

Draco stumbled to his feet, holding his right hand over his heart. Even as his skin healed, he could feel his heart continue to bleed.
Stephen stood before him, throwing Allie back and forth as she clung to his neck. With wild jabs, he managed to stab Allie repeatedly with his glass blade, but it wasn’t enough to break her hold.
Allie yelled victoriously all the while in his ear, pausing only to bite at his neck.
Draco dragged his feet forward, determined to help her finish the job, but he was too slow.
Before he could reach them, Stephen managed to free himself from Allie by slashing her wrists. She let go, falling to the ground just as Draco attempted to tackle him to the ground.
Stephen nimbly stepped out of the way as Draco fell to his knees, but before Stephen could take advantage, Serenity appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
Before he could react, Serenity tackled Stephen to the ground, knocking the knife out of his hand.
Draco watched as Stephen rolled on top of her, pinning her shoulders. He tried to stand, to run to her aid, but he was too weak.
Then Stephen lunged for his knife, Serenity still pinned to the ground.
Draco got to his feet, only to fall again. “Sarah,” he whispered, unable to speak any louder.
Stephen grabbed his knife, holding it over Serenity.
“No,” Draco said, climbing to his feet once more. “Sarah!” He yelled hoarsely, managing to throw himself at Stephen.
Draco lost his balance as he crashed into Stephen knocking them both into the ground as Serenity rolled out of the way.
Draco tried to stand again, but he had already used everything he had to save Serenity.
Then Stephen was on top of him, knife in hand. “There’s no time to savor this,” he said. And then he plunged the blade into Draco’s heart and twisted, breaking the glass.
Draco mouthed two words as he died. Inaudible and unheard. “I’m sorry.”

——

Serenity rolled to her feet to find Draco lying at Stephen’s feet. Lifeless, his eyes half-open, a tear still on his cheek.
Serenity froze, uncomprehending as she stared at her estranged husband. She paid Stephen no mind as he moved toward her, her mind in shock.
Tears formed on her cheek, her body beginning to shake with despair.
It was Allie to came to her rescue, prompting her to fight. Allie to broke Serenity out of her haze. Then came the fury. The anger at Draco for leaving her yet again. The anger at Stephen for forcing him.
What came next was a blur as Allie and Serenity fought together, tearing Stephen down bit by bit until he finally lost consciousness.
It was only then that Allie’s dragons persevered. Horn was the first to go down, killed with a blow to the head by Bael. Then Xaen fell under the pressure of Claire and Bael, subdued long enough for Serenity to Claim him as her own.

———

I’m keeping this extremely brief since this chapter took so long to write.

Be fearless.

Don’t let expectations rule your writing, not your own or anyone else’s. Your story doesn’t have to look a certain way. End a certain way. Etc.
I suggest you be true to the characters. To their arcs. To use certain storytelling principles in order to write a satisfying story.
But those are just suggestions.
The only necessary thing to be a writer is to be fearless.
Write what you want to write. Don’t let fear get in your way.

Allie. Chapter 44. The kill.

The crowd of onlookers parted for Jade as she sauntered under the stadium arches. Draco watched their passing faces with a frown, contemplating the trouble he’d put them in by bringing the fight to the city.
Patty was silent as she stared at Miguel’s writhing body laid across Jade’s back, her face a thoughtful scowl.
As they entered the stadium, Draco realized with a start that it was no longer vacant. A dozen soldiers now stood in a circle around the pit, each one with their own Claimed animal. Draco counted two lions, the rest a mix of horses and dogs. None of them paid Jade any mind as she walked up to the sand-filled floor.
“You’re alive,” Serenity said, her face unreadable.
Draco slid off of Jade, dragging Miguel with him. “Barely,” he said, dropping Miguel in the sand.
Shean and Frank’s eyes simultaneously widened as they saw Miguel, their faces baffled.
“He broke a Blood Oath,” Draco explained, frowning down at Miguel.
“Serves him right,” Shean said. “Never seen it in person though.”
“What are we going to do with him?” Allie asked, looking confused.
Serenity glanced down at Brianna whose entire body went rigid. “Use him as an example.” She said with a smile.
“Miguel told me he has a sister in the city,” Draco said. “We can leave him with her.”
“After we make an example of him,” Serenity snapped as she grabbed the collar of Miguel’s shirt and dragged him through the sand toward Brianna, leaving him to writhe at her feet.
“Is… whatever it is… reversible?” Allie asked, paling.
“Not in the slightest,” Serenity replied, her eyes wild with satisfaction as she squatted down next to Brianna. Then she pulled out a knife and drew it across her palm. “Draw blood with me, daughter.”
Brianna clutched her hands to her breasts, terrified. “I choose death,” she hissed.
“Given easily enough,” Serenity said, looking around them. “I have twelve loyal guards here, each with swords of steel and sworn to serve me, but a quick death is more than you deserve. Have you ever been tortured with steel? Would you choose such a pain over dealing with me?”
“Gladly,” Brianna spat. “You can’t force an oath, and I won’t make it. My suffering will be short-lived, steel or not, once our dragons arrive. You lose, Sarah.”
Allie sighed, biting her lip as she surveyed their forces. Thirteen animals and a dragon. She watched Serenity massacre a larger force than this with only five dragons. There were at least seven on their way to do the same to them.
For what seemed like the hundredth time since they’d entered the city, she contemplated running, but she knew she couldn’t. Without Claire, it would be a true massacre, and whatever their faults, they didn’t deserve to die abandoned.
Serenity stabbed Brianna in the leg with her knife, slowly dragging it across her skin as she screamed in agony.
Allie considered giving Claire to Serenity. She wouldn’t owe them anything is she left her dragon behind. Or maybe she could give Claire to Draco. She used to be his, after all. He’d make better use of her in the fight to come.
Allie repeated the same thing over and over again in her head, but, in the end, she couldn’t do it. Frank was family. So was Shean and Patty, and Claire. A family fit to die for.
“Sarah,” Draco said, gently pulling her knife away from Brianna. “She made her choice. Stephen will be here any moment. We need to prepare.”
“We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” Serenity said, waving Draco away.
“Camor favors red in battle,” Frank announced as if on cue. “His heel is fire. Breen favors green and her heel is at the nape of her wing. And the third of Stephen’s dragons we know about is Horn. He doesn’t have a natural color, but he favors the underground. If you see a dragon avoiding the open sky, its likely him.”
“And his heel?” Allie asked.
“Blunt force,” Frank finished. “And the fourth dragon is unknown.”
“All that’s left is to kill Brianna and eliminate the other three dragons from the fight,” Serenity said, now standing over her with her knife. “Is that your final choice, daughter? Death? I could give you freedom. A life with your dragons if but swear an oath to fight with us in the battle.”
“You know my answer,” Brianna said, visibly shaking. “I’m not fooled, Sarah, and neither should any of you be!” She said, raising her voice. “To resist Stephen is to resist death itself! None of you have to give your lives for this woman!”
Serenity growled at her words, raising her knife over Brianna’s head.
“Sarah,” Draco called, not daring to repeat the mistake of tackling her. “We don’t have to kill her. We can still run. Find more dragons until we enough to even out the fight.”
“Oh Drumond,” Serenity sighed, knife still poised over Brianna. “You were always sweet. But a fool.” And with that, she drive her knife home right into Brianna’s skull.
Brianna fell to the ground, her eyes unseeing as the entire stadium held their breath. For mere moments there was complete silence. Then the chorus of roars erupted in the distance, echoing across the city.
“Brianna’s dragons,” Frank said, looking up at the sky. “They were close.”
“Then Stephen is close too,” Serenity said, pulling her blade free. “The fight is here.”
Allie’s heart raced as she climbed onto Claire and launched into the sky while the rest of them divided out weapons. Hovering above the stadium, she searched the sky, and there, just outside the city, she saw them. Several dragons flying around the clouds in a frenzy. It took her a moment to realize what was happening.
“He’s trying to Claim them himself!” She yelled down. “I have to stop him!” And without another word, she took off with Claire, flying right at the chaos of dragons.
The swarm of dragons diving in and out of sight was almost too much for Allie to follow. One dragon dove through the clouds, followed by another dragon snapping at its tail, trying to latch on so it couldn’t get away just another pair of dragons slammed into the ground, wrestling for dominance.
Allie directed Claire away from those pairs, searching for Stephen instead. With bated breath, they climbed higher through the clouds, emerging above them to find two dragons wrestling a third. Stephen was currently distracted, riding the largest of the three dragons, colored black.
Allie used the distraction to climb above their tangled mess, looking for an opening. The three dragons spun in the air, two on one, with Brianna’s old dragon stuck in the middle and clearly growing weaker by the second.
Throwing caution to the wind, Allie and Claire eventually dove into the fray, slamming into Stephen’s dragon.
Stephen cursed as Allie kicked at him from her perch atop Claire. She hadn’t thought to stop and arm herself, leaving her weaponless.
Stephen snarled at her while simultaneously seeming to size her up. Finally, he cursed again and detached himself from Brianna’s dragon just as his other dragon did the same.
The third dragon fell out of the sky as Stephen and his two dragons turned don Claire. Allie realized her mistake too late as the two dragons collapsed on them, tearing at Claire just as they had done to the other dragon.
Allie screamed as random claws dug into her back, tearing her skin along with Claire’s wings.
She forced herself to focus, holding on to Claire with all her might as she let out a constant stream of involuntary screams.
Even as a claw removed itself from her back, she managed to glance backward at the offending dragons. As far as she could tell, Stephen’s was the unknown, but she knew who the other was. She was green, called Breen, and her heel was at the nape of one of her wings. If only she had a weapon.
Allie could feel the life leaving Claire as the dragons bit and clawed at her hide. With every passing second, they were losing altitude, soon to be lost in the clouds.
Allie attempted to turn on Claire’s back, thinking to jump onto Breen instead, but found she couldn’t move, her muscles too busy reforming between stabs to perform anything more than staying in place.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Claire as she let out a pitiful moan. “I tried my best.” With as much force as she had, Allie wrapped her arms tightly around Claire, prepared to fall through the sky, when her allies finally joined the fight.
Three Claimed suddenly flew over them, their riders indiscernible through the haze of dragons. With coordinated effort, they barraged Stephen’s dragons, picking at them little by little, trying to get them off of Claire.
It soon became clear, however, that the dragons wouldn’t let go. They knew the claimed couldn’t break their hold or do any real damage.
Allie and Claire were quickly picking up speed as the holes in her wings grew larger, Stephen and his dragons relentless in their assault.
Then, suddenly, someone threw himself onto Breen. “I’ve got you, my Queen!” Shean yelled as he slammed his sword into the nape of Breen’s wing. Breen roared, but maintained its hold on Claire. “Oops,” Shean said, “other wing.”
And with that, he slammed his sword into the nape of the other wing. Breen immediately went limp, falling through the sky.
Just as Breen fell, Shean leaped off of Breen’s back in an attempt to make it back on top of his horse. Instead, Stephen caught him in mid-air, pulling him to his dragon.
Allie looked on in horror as Stephen held Shean’s neck, staring at him in seething silence. Then, without a word, Stephen ran a knife through Shean’s head and dropped him into the open sky.

——

Alrighty. Continuing the breakdown of an ending to a story.
Again, as the most important part of the story, it’s essential to understand why we write certain endings so you can make informed decisions regarding your own stories.
I had a vague idea of how I wanted this to go, but, as in most chapters, the characters surprised me when I sat down to write it.
For the sake of simplicity, lets consider Serenity, Allie, and Draco as the three main characters. If your ending isn’t satisfying for the main characters, then re-write it.
It’s nice to give Shean, Patty, and Frank, etc. Big moments, but the story isn’t about them. So when I go into a chapter like this, I have to make sure its the main characters having their moments.
Serenity and Draco are pitted against each other and are a focus for this chapter, but their real moments will come next chapter. Leaving Allie to be the driving force in the fight.
I didn’t plan for her to go on ahead, but as I started writing the sequence, it made perfect sense. It’s her (and her dragon/representation of power) against the main bad guy (and his dragons/representations of power) with the opportunity to make a difference. To save her friends and prove to herself that she matters.
She succeeds. And she doesn’t. But the important note here is that she tried. She stood up for herself. That’s a story in of itself and it’s what matters when you look at the story as a whole. She’s not just a cog in the wheel. She matters. (And therefore the readers who identify with her matter)
There’s more to say on this chapter, but nothing I haven’t already gone over in previous chapters. Use fight scene writing skills to bring clarity to the scene. Set up a character so it matters when they die. Etc.
Use everything you have in the end. It will be remembered.

Allie. Chapter 43. The Breakdown.

The sun had just begun its climb back down for the day when they finally saw the city emerge on the horizon. They’d been forced to slow down as the day wore on, constantly looking over their shoulders, expecting an attack that never came.
“Maybe Stephen doesn’t care enough about Brianna to hunt us down…” Allie said, daring to hope as they approached the city.
“Doubtful,” Draco mumbled, pulling himself out of his melancholy. “Even so, we’d still have to deal with all three of Brianna’s dragons. Only a matter of time until they find her, and they won’t rest ’til they do.”
“I know one of her dragon’s heels,” Serenity said, her voice projecting a confidence that didn’t exist.
Frank nodded, willing himself to take what small comfort he could. “What heel is that, mother?”
“Wood,” Serenity said simply.
“Wood?” Allie asked, “how are we supposed to kill a dragon with wood?”
“A spear thrust deep enough through an eye should do it,” Frank said. “Simple enough.”
“See?” Shean interjected. “All we have to do is walk up a dragon’s face and stick a stick through its eye. All the sudden it’s only two on one. Easy pickings.”
Draco shook his head, watching as the city grew closer. “What about Stephen’s dragons?”
Serenity shot him a suffering look. “I recall three of the four heels.”
Patty popped her head up, still looking groggy from her sleep. “Three aint bad,” she said enthusiastically.
“Three out of four wouldn’t be bad at all if we were able to do anything about them,” Draco said, eyeing the city as they eclipsed the outer walls. “What we need to know is Stephen’s heel. It’s the only way to get out of this fight alive.”
Draco glanced at Jade flying behind them. She was still exhausted, but managing well enough now that she had less of a burden. Gently, he reached out to her and imaged the stadium below. “Allie,” he said. “You can have Claire follow Jade. She knows where to go.”
Moments later, they landed in sand still stained with blood. The stadium was empty save a single pair of men scrambling toward the exits.
“Everyone in the city saw us land here,” Serenity said as they slid off of Claire and into the sand. “Soldiers will be here soon enough.”
“At which point they’ll learn their Queen has returned,” Draco snapped. “Do you suppose they’ll fight with us? When they see seven dragons against our one, do you think they won’t turn on us? They’ve done it before.”
Serenity shook with frustration, clenching her fists. “I won’t apologize for ridding them of a tyrant.”
Draco bit his tongue, knowing a reply would only escalate the matter.
Silence fell upon them as Frank threw Miguel and Brianna into the sand. “What the soldiers will or won’t do is mute. There aren’t enough of them to make a difference either way.”
As soon as they hit the sand, both Miguel and Brianna began to stir, shaking themselves out of their blackouts.
“Then we force what we need from these two,” Allie said, looking down on the two concussed Immortals.
Draco saw fire in Patty’s eyes as she took a step toward Miguel, but Draco caught her arm, gently pulling her back. “We need him,” he whispered, squatting down to put himself level with her.
“He killed my mama,” she said, choking on her words. “My home…”
“I know,” Draco said, fighting back tears. “He deserves worse than death. But we’re not the ones to give it to him.”
Patty stared down at the sand, no longer able to look at her mother’s killer. “I promised her,” she whispered. “I promised he’d pay for what he did.”
The others watched in silence as they stood in a circle around Miguel and Brianna, who were just beginning to open their eyes.
“We’ll deal with him once we’ve won this fight,” Draco promised, resting a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re not going to win this fight,” she said, refusing to look at him as she walked back to sit with Jade.
Miguel was the first to sit up, rubbing this temples as he squinted at his captors. “So we made it all the way back, eh?”
Something about his casual demeanor made Draco snap. Not thinking clearly, he lunged for Miguel, punching him repeatedly in the face until his fist was as red as Miguel’s chin. Eventually, he rose to his feet, re-composing himself just as Miguel’s face did the same.
“Where are the others?” Brianna asked after a moment, her voice measured.
“We don’t need the others,” Serenity said, looking down on her. “We just need you.”
“You want to know our weaknesses?” Brianna guessed.
“Just Stephen’s would do nicely,” Frank said, his eyes unusually hard. “But we’ll take yours too, if you’re feeling generous.”
Allie shuffled her feet, making eye-contact with Shean as Miguel managed to sit back up, his face completely healed despite the blood staining it.
“You’ll get nothing from me,” Brianna replied evenly, her voice betraying something close to boredom. “The others can’t be far behind. You have maybe, what? An hour or two to torture me before they get here? No time at all. No leverage at all.”
Serenity snarled, her eyes turning wild. “We can have fun trying.”
“There’s no need for that,” Miguel said, smiling as if he hadn’t just been pummeled. “I can give you what you want.” Brianna shot Miguel a look of confusion, the tiniest bit of fear slipping through as Miguel continued. “Or, rather, part of it anyway.”
“What are you talking about?” Draco asked, holding his breath for fear that’d he’d lose his cool once more.
“Let me loose,” Miguel bargained, “and I’ll tell you Brianna’s heel.”
Miguel’s offer was met with silence, none of them daring to hope he was telling the truth.
“Alright, Miguel,” Allie said, when it was clear Serenity and Draco weren’t going to respond. “Tell us, and if you’re telling the truth, we’ll let you go.”
Miguel chuckled. “I’ve been alive far too long to believe such a promise. Let me go and then I’ll tell you.”
“Impractical and even less likely,” Draco said with a scowl. “You’re just going to have to trust us, Miguel.”
“I think not,” Miguel said, still smiling. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll prove you can trust me…”
“Miguel,” Brianna hissed. “Don’t be a fool.”
Miguel ignored her. “I know someone else’s heel as well. And you can test it out here and now with no strings attached. Glass.”
Draco went stiff, his breath quickening.
“Good ole’ Draco’s heel is glass,” Miguel repeated, smiling wide. “Didn’t think I’d figured it out, did you? But I’ve studied heels, I’ve heard the stories, and I put them to the test over the last year. Who knew something as simple as glass could take down the mighty Drumond? Stephen was quite pleased to here it.”
Allie watched the tension in Draco dissipate, leaving him deflated. Even as she watched Serenity, she knew what Miguel said was true. Their worried looks confirmed it.
“What of Brianna’s heel?” Allie asked. “The truth will buy your freedom. On my word.”
Miguel eyed Allie with a mischievous grin. “I don’t believe you,” he said finally. “But I think I’ll tell you anyway. It’s fairly simple… most of them are after all…”
“Miguel,” Brianna warned, rising to her knees.
“Simple steel,” Miguel said, ignoring Brianna once again. “Steel to the abdomen. I’ve seen the scars.”
Brianna screamed, throwing herself at Miguel, but he rolled backward, letting Frank and Shean restrain Brianna for him.
“So,” Miguel said, rising to his feet, brushing the sand off of his clothes. “Do we have a deal?”
Serenity stepped forward, pulling a knife on Brianna, who was still being held by Frank and Shean. “We’ll have to test it first.” Then, with a grunt, she thrust her knife toward Brianna’s stomach.
“No!” Draco yelled as he tackled Serenity to the sand. The knife, already bloodied, fell out of her hands as they rolled across the ground.
“She deserves to die!” Serenity yelled, punching and clawing at Draco as hard as she could.
“She can still help us!” Draco yelled back, trying to extract himself from her claws.
Brianna knelt in the sand, holding an arm across her bleeding stomach. “Get me a cloth,” she pleaded, breathless as Serenity and Draco continued their tussle.
Allie ripped off a piece of her skirt and let Brianna staunch the bleeding.
“The cut was shallow,” Frank assured Allie. “She’ll live.”
Allie let out a sigh of relief just as Jade flew over their heads.
“What the…”
Then she saw Miguel running toward one of the stadium exits. He’d taken advantage of the chaos, having already climbed two-thirds of the way up the stairs by the time Patty noticed him.
As soon as he realized what was happening, Draco took off after him, but Patty and Jade had the head start. Before any of them could intercept Miguel, he disappeared through the archways and into the city.
Jade flew over the arches, touching back down on the crowded city-street. Swarms of people had gathered around the stadium, drawn to the excitement of the dragons, yet unwilling to draw attention to themselves by entering the stadium.
As Jade landed, the crowds scattered, screaming as they clawed their way from danger. “Move!” Patty yelled as Jade carefully made her way through the city, smelling her way toward Miguel.
Finally, Patty spotted him turning down an even bigger street filled with vendors.
Jade turned down the street, locked-in, yet forced to wait for people to move out of her way.
“Patty!” Draco yelled from somewhere behind her.
She ignored him, making ground on her prey. She had promised her mom.
Finally, they were almost on top of Miguel when he spun and threw a dagger right at her. Too late, Patty turned, trying to dodge the knife. Jade managed to pull up just in time to protect Patty, but the knife lodged deep in Jade’s leg.
Jade let out a roar as she stumbled in the street.
“Patty!” Draco yelled again, coming up on their heels.
Miguel’s look of satisfaction turned into one of determination as he frantically searched the buildings around him. Almost immediately, he let out a roar of victory as he ran to the nearest house and smashed its window, pulling out a shard of glass.
Draco didn’t blink as ran toward Miguel, weaponless and wild.
As calm as could be, Miguel let Draco come to him, the crowd around them fleeing for their lives.
With blind rage, Draco lunged for Miguel just as Miguel slammed the glass into Draco’s leg.
Draco crumbled to the ground, but forced himself to stand in the face of his death.
But death never came, as Miguel suddenly fell to his knees, foaming at the mouth. Slowly, he let the glass dagger fall from his hand, his eyes unseeing as he entire body convulsed. Then Draco finally understood.
The blood oath. Miguel had violated the blood oath.

——

Because the conclusion of the story is so important, I’m taking this chapter to breakdown my thought process going into the ending of this book.

We’re getting to the point where the smallest mistake can now ruin the story, because, typically, the ending of a story gives it’s definition. Meaning your story will be remembered for how it ends. A comedy is called a comedy when it has a happy ending. A tragedy because it has a sad ending. And even if a story is good all the way until the end, if its ending is bad, only the most forgiving of readers will look back on it as anything other than bad.

So let’s look at this chapter:
This was the first time in the entire story that I already knew what was going to happen before actually sitting down to write the chapter.
My goal here is to start tying up the loose ends before the final fight. We need to know all the stakes so we can be completely invested in the fight. We need to understand where everyone stands and conclude every arc in order of importance. (As explained in a previous chapter)

Primary in this chapter is Miguel:

He’s been a helpful villain since chapter 1. So I had him help us one last time before sealing his fate. There’s a final component to come in the next chapter, but his arc is ultimately coming to a close because of Draco, Patty, and Jade. All three of them had very good reasons to want revenge, so it was them who chased him down. He would have gotten away if not for Patty and Jade, and he would have beaten Draco if not for making the (semi) fatal mistake of forgetting his oath. He tried one too many tricks, and in the very same place as when we were first introduced to him.

Secondary is location:

As mentioned above, there’s something poetic/symbolic about returning to where the story began. There are practical reasons to go back, but it’s more about providing the reader with a feeling of completion. If the story had ended in a desert, there’d be an implicit message of unfinished business. The city means something important to all of these characters, and ending the story there carries more weight than it may seem at first glance.

Third was the set-up:

I had to plan this chapter out to make sure the ending was set-up well enough to be satisfying. If I was editing this book, I’d have the luxury of going back and doing it later, but alas…
Now we have:
Leverage over Brianna
An opportunity to settle Draco and Serenity’s beef represented by a singular conflict (what to do about Brianna)
A chance for (somewhat) evened odds in the fight to come
And clarity on the situation as a whole (how many dragons are likely coming and how many of them we know how to take down)

It’s these kinds of things you should be thinking about when writing the endings to your stories. We have three chapters left. The rest of the set-up, the conflict itself, and the results. Strap in.

Draco. Chapter 42. Subtext.

“They’re starting to stir,” Frank said, looking to Sarah for direction.
The six of us were huddled together on Claire’s back, tense and unspeaking. Jade flew in front of us, setting the pace.
My body rebelled against me, trying to force me to sleep, but I couldn’t. None of us slept save Patty who was nestled safely between Allie and Shean and snoring louder than I previously thought possible.
“Jade is near collapsing anyway,” I muttered, frowning at the five bodies slowing waking on her back. “We have no choice but to stop.”
“They’ll catch us if we stop,” Allie yelled over Patty’s snores.
“They’ll likely catch us anyway,” Sarah said, frowning.
“Then we need to severe their Bonds now before they get here!” Allie yelled.
I watched as Jade’s wings steadily grew weaker, pumping slower. I could feel her muscles giving out. We were pushing her too hard. “She’s right. We’re wasting time up here. By the time we would make it back to the city, they’ll have caught us already.”
“So what if we do stop? Sarah snapped. “Suppose we land, torture five people, and kill them before their dragons find us? Would that stop the others from coming? Stephen has four dragons to torture us with, regardless of whether or not we can free the other six.”
“So we disappear,” I said, grasping for answers. “We run.”
Sarah snapped her head around, making eye-contact with me for the first time since we’d been saved. Her gaze was withering, filled with contempt.
“You’ve already admitted it,” I said defensively, feeling my hackles rise. “There’s no winning this fight! We can come back when the situation has changed.”
“They’re waking up,” Frank interrupted, pointing to the stirring bodies on top of Jade.
I ordered Jade to drop through the air just as Claire did the same. Then, when Jade was only twenty or so yards from the ground, she spun, dropping the Immortals the rest of the way through the air. The five of them landed in a heap with a sickening crunch.
Finally free of her cargo, Jade plopped onto the ground a good distance away and collapsed. Moments later, Claire landed next to the dazed Immortals.
As soon as she touched down, Allie, Frank, Sarah, and I leaped onto the pile of Immortals, repeatedly kicking their heads until they fell back unconscious.
“Jade can’t keep flying,” I said, coughing once we’d finished the melee. “Not with people on her.”
“Claire isn’t doing so hot either,” Allie said, wiping the sweat from her face. “She can go a little longer, but not much. Not without rest.”
“So what do you propose, Drumond?” Sarah hissed. “We leave them here and run?” Her voice was saturated with derision, her eyes cutting straight through me.
“If we stay, we lose,” I said. “Permanantly.”
“Maybe we can convince them to help us,” Allie said, swallowing hard. “What if we offer their freedom in exchange for fighting Stephen?”
Sarah scoffed. “They’ll do nothing unless coerced. We’ll have to torture them to the point that they’d rather die than keep suffering.”
“I’m not torturing anyone,” Allie said, her fists clenched despite her voice catching in her throat.
“You know I won’t either,” I said, my voice hard. “It’s not right.”
Sarah glanced at Frank, who gave her a hesitant nod. “Then it’s the two of us left to do what’s necessary,” she said. “Nothing has changed.”
“Sarah,” I said, nearly choking on her name.
“Serenity,” she corrected.
“Sarah,” I insisted. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t care,” Sarah said, interrupting. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“I just couldn’t bare it,” I continued. “I couldn’t even look at you after…”
Sarah’s face contorted in anger. A single tear forced its way down her cheek as she looked at me with wild eyes. “Say it.”
I shook my head, unable to bring myself to finish.
“After she died!” Sarah yelled, shaking. “Claire died, Drum!”
I covered my ears, shutting my eyes, willing myself to block out the world.
“Our daughter died and instead of facing what happened, you left like a coward! You left me to wallow by myself, pretending as if I never existed. As if Claire never happened.”
I dropped to my knees, letting my hands fall to my side. “I’m sorry.”
“You are that,” Sarah agreed. “A sorry excuse for an Immortal. For a man.”
Silence followed as Sarah looked down on me with a look that I couldn’t quite read.
Eventually, Frank coughed, breaking the silence.
“So what are we going to do?” Allie asked tentatively, not daring to look Sarah or me in the eyes.
“We could bury them,” Frank suggested, shrugging. “That might give us enough time to escape while their dragons search for them.”
“We’re not running,” Sarah insisted.
“What if we bury everyone except Brianna?” Allie asked. “She has three of the dragons by herself. Plus, I think she and Stephen are an item.”
I forced myself to climb to my feet, though I couldn’t bring myself to look at Sarah. “That would lighten the load, but we’d still be running.”
“Guys?” Shean yelled from Claire’s back. “Don’t y’all think we should get going before we have to knock them out all over again? I’m surprised our little girl’s snores haven’t already woken them back up.”
“Allie is right,” Serenity conceded. “Even if we only take Brianna, Stephen will still come looking for her. We’ll leave the rest here, and, if we’re lucky, maybe we can get her to turn on him.”
“It would still be their seven against our four,” Frank cautioned.
“Not if three of them are still looking for their masters,” I said, not daring to tear my eyes from my toes. For a moment, nobody said anything. The silence was filled with Patty’s snores, reminding me of her presence. “We need to take Miguel as well,” I added. “We have unfinished business.”
I did finally look up at that, glancing at Sarah long enough for her to give a nod.
“Alright then,” Allie said. “I guess we have some burying to do.”

——

Subtext. It’s what’s being said without being said.

Movies do it with images, angles, reaction shots, music, etc. But books have the ability to be just as subtle. Just as impactful without a single piece of dialogue. And all it takes are the right words.
Subtext tends to be one of the hardest things to master for writers, but master it you must if you want to become a great storyteller.

Your goal as a writer should be to convey something beyond your words. When you write a line such as:
I ran as fast as I could, my heart racing. Tears mixed with sweat as I dared not look behind me.”
The ultimate intention is not to draw attention to the character’s physical condition, but to make the reader anxious about what will happen next. Make them question why the character is running. Make them hope the character escapes.
That’s what writing is all about: Drawing them into the story beyond the words.
If we were to write without subtext, the line would instead look more like:
I ran away from the monster that was chasing me.”
Yes, it’s technically what happened. But it’s not really the story…

Hopefully, then, it’s clear how subtext is pervasive in writing a story. But how do you go about mastering it?

Show, don’t tell.

It’s one of the first rules I shared in this blog. Show the tears and sweat, don’t tell us they’re scared. Show pursed lips, hard eyes, a scowl, don’t tell us they’re angry.

Trust your audience.

Most readers/viewers are expert consumers. They know how to follow a story. Trust them to understand what you’re telling them.
If you give them the clues, they’ll put it together, which allows them to become a part of the story. They’re engaged and entertained. If you feed them the answer, it’s condescending, disengaging, and worst of all: boring.

Trust yourself.

I think this is the biggest problem for beginners. Not that you don’t trust your audience, but that you don’t trust yourself.
You’re not sure you did a good enough job describing something. Explaining the plot. Showing emotion. Etc. So you decide to just come out and say it plainly just in case.
You know what, you may be right. You may not have done a good enough job “showing.” But the answer isn’t to “tell” instead. The answer is to go back and show better. And keep showing until you’re confident you showed enough. Eventually, you’ll get it right the first (few) time(s) and won’t need to over-show.

Dialogue.

Okay, so this is the biggest place subtext comes into play. It’s the most obvious and potentially the most difficult to master.
You have to use subtext in dialogue. At least, when the dialogue is important.
When someone is hungry, maybe they will just come out and say “I’m hungry,” but when something important is going on, dialogue makes or breaks the scene.

What I did in this chapter with Draco and Serenity was mixture of things. I started with heavy subtext between the two of them and then built up to an outburst to provide clarity. We’ve been waiting for an answer as to what happened between them, so it wasn’t enough to keep hinting. We needed answers so that the readers could have context and a sense of closure when things reach their climax at the end of the story.

Even still… even with the necessity of clarity and answers, I still needed to use subtext in order for the dialogue to feel real.
But the question remains, how do you apply subtext to dialogue? It’s ultimately up to you, but here are some options depending on your characters and their situations:
Beat around the bush
Avoid topics (Change the subject/Interrupt)
Use silence
Rarely say what they mean
Accuse others
Don’t share how they feel

Overall, just don’t be direct (or even honest in most cases) unless that’s who your character is.