I’ve been thinking about monsters and menace as I craft the last book of my fantasy genre trilogy. Because I have been working on this project for several years, my greatest challenge is writing a coherent and consistent series; but changes arise over time as characters evolve, enter, or leave the narrative, and the story extends into the greater world of Dragonwolder.
In the first two books, I hinted at the identity of the Malevir for whom the series is named and whose machinations have endangered all of Dragonwolder’s other inhabitants. Apparently lacking his own material presence, the Malevir is capable of insinuating himself into the bodies and spirits of those he wants to control. Through his thralls, he intends to destroy his most powerful adversaries, the dragon clans of his world. By the end of the series, his identity comes to light as well as his purpose, one surpassing that of a traditional fantasy antagonist. A reader has said she can’t wait until he meets his end; but I’m not willing do kill him off in any conventional way.
At the trilogy’s outset, the Malevir has stolen peace from the Veiled Valley of Dragonwolder. He acts like the usual horrifying bad guy one would expect to meet in a work of fantasy. His evil doings oppress the valley’s people who do not travel beyond the horseshoe-shaped chain of mountains defining their homeland and all that they know of the world.
Outside the valley lie a desert, a sea, and a tropical zone. People call those regions the Beyonds, which they avoid because they fear the Malevir haunts them. The only people with courage to explore the Beyonds are dragonriders who journey there on the wings of their dragon companions.
Most of my dragon characters are sympathetic and benevolent, but of all the monsters I have invented, my favorite is a real ‘baddy,’ one of the Malevir’s creatures, a colossal, two-headed aiglonax fearing no mortal except weasels (a convention in monster lore). I enjoyed creating the aiglonax and watching him “flesh out” over time. He gave me room to explore unlimited rage, unbridled malice, and the misery those drives create if indulged or encouraged.
My aiglonax is a composite of creatures from mythology like cockatrices, flying serpents, rocs, and griffins. He has some of their powers, including flight, paralyzing venom, poisonous breath, incredible strength, and shape-shifting. In Malevir: Dragons Return, as an ogre or basilisk depending on his aims, he preys upon the Veiled Valley of Dragonwolder; and, because of the Malevir’s trickery, the farmers and townspeople believe not the aiglonax but dragons, previously their protectors, are responsible for the creature’s attacks on their fields and livestock. They cannot imagine the existence of a living aiglonax. That’s the stuff of hoary legends, they say.
But the aiglonax is terribly real. He continues his attacks. Desperate, the valley’s motley assemblage of inhabitants eventually puts aside their doubts, fears, and differences. They band together to fight the aiglonax who proves too wily and dangerous for their limited resources. Only their estranged dragon protectors can help them now, if the valley’s inhabitants and the dragons can make peace with each other. The creature meets an odd fate at the end of this first book, and the people who bring it about had no idea they would find themselves witnessing it when the story began.
In Where Dragons Follow, the second Malevir series book, dragonriders pursue Kurnan, a character from the first novel who has become another of the Malevir’s tools. He flees across several zones of the Beyonds while encountering terrifying and dangerous challenges. Wounded in body and spirit by the Malevir’s cruel magick, Kurnan appears unfit to face and overcome hard times and hurdles. Moreover, his response to old trauma caused by his battle with the aiglonax puts in doubt Dragonwolder’s very survival.
The aiglonax is one of the Malevir’s many incarnations. As he adjusts his strategies aimed at the dragons’ destruction, the Malevir renews his threats and changes his tactics. Still residing in his creations or slaves, the Malevir hides his true self, yet exerts tremendous power over his enemies. How can the defenders of Dragonwolder fight him if they do not know what he is? His identity remains a total mystery until near the end of Where Dragons Follow. In one of the most frightening final scenes of the book, the Malevir seems to take the form of a nebulous cloud resembling a dragon as he escapes a furious act of vengeance. The Malevir loathes the clans of Dragonwolder and will do anything to annihilate them, so why take the form suggestive of a dragon? To mislead his foes?
As I craft the last book of the trilogy, I plan to address if not answer that question. Instead of creating new menaces, I will focus on the core antagonist driving this narrative. If greed and contempt were the fundamental or sole motives shaping his behavior, the Malevir would remain a two-dimensional character. Perhaps something else, maybe an early, formative experience, isolated the Malevir and turned him away from his kind, just as Anakin Skywalker betrayed the Jedi by becoming Darth Vader. How or why he changed and continues to ‘morph’ will define the Malevir as more than an everyday monster. I look forward to seeing how this character grows and becomes more defined.