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Nox and Grimm: A Convocation of Elements, Part 2 November 29, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The world passed below Grimm in a patchwork quilt of fields, all golden with summer wheat. The road that ran down their middle was made into a colorful ribbon by the long, winding column of riders, glittering in their jewel-bedecked finery.

Grimm tugged at the collar of his own new clothes. The heat of the day bore down on him even as he flew in these higher elevations – he was not at all dressed for the weather.  A rivulet of sweat rolled down his neck, and he directed little breeze to dry it up before it stained his new surcoat. He’d argued all morning with Nox about it, but she’d been adamant.

“If you are going to represent the House of Winds at the Convocation, you must look the part.” She’d held up the heavy, embroidered white surcoat, critically inspecting the craftsmanship. “Much as I hate to agree with my mother about anything, appearances do matter. They’ll question me enough; we can’t afford to have anyone question your right to be there.”

She had been all too right about that.  He looked down at his little friend, who seemed even tinier atop the big black war horse she rode. With her pale skin and elaborate robes, she looked like nothing so much as a porcelain doll. Beautiful, to be sure, but she did not engender the automatic fear and respect given to her father. Even their allies were already testing her, looking for a weakness. “They are like a bunch of sharks, scenting blood in the water,” he thought.

Nox must have picked up on the thought through their soul-bond. Her face tilted up toward him. “Then I will simply have to be a barracuda.  Faster, nastier and with sharper teeth.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “I could almost pity them. Almost.”

“Go on up ahead and make your entrance. We’re close enough now that we don’t need an aerial scout.”

“As my lady commands.”

The city that played host to the Convocation was an odd mix of ancient and modern construction. The hall itself lay at the city’s heart, little changed from the first time Grimm saw it over two thousand years before.  It’s broad, sweeping architecture had been designed to accommodate Air kindreds like himself, with tall vaulted ceilings and gently curving corridors that made for easy flying. The rest of the city was a mish-mosh of styles, each one reflecting the tastes of the elemental kindred that designed it. Tall towers, squat domes, square citadels, angular temples…the streets that ran between them radiated out from the Convocation hall like spokes from a wheel, until they reached the high stone defensive walls. Clusters of shops lined the entire circumference of the wall, huddled against its bulk like a jumble of sea wrack thrown up on a beach. All in all it made for a colorful mess, a far cry from the lonely trading outpost of his day.

Grimm drifted downwards, surprised to find he was a little nervous. He never hesitated on the battlefield, but politics were another matter entirely. He tugged at his collar one more time and then picked up speed, preparing to make a proper entrance.

The look of shock on the faces of the delegates was priceless.  He swept down in a roaring gale and landed on the top step before the entrance amidst a chorus of undignified shrieks. That quickly turned into gasps of astonishment as the line of Truthfinders standing guard over the doors, with their glowing swords drawn, all bowed in unison as he strode up the last step.

The first challenge came immediately and unsurprisingly from the Morning Lord’s representative. A lean, golden-haired New Dawn priest pushed through the crowd waiting to enter.  “What nonsense is this? You make us wait out here for an hour, and for what? Some deviltry conjured up by the Ice Lord’s witch?”

Morvrain, the chief Truthfinder stepped forward. “This is no spell. The Master of the hall bade us wait till he arrived to assure the safety of all who enter.”

The priest gave out a derisive laugh. “Master? Last I checked the law states this is neutral ground, held by no House. End this farce, Morvrain, and let us in.”

Grimm drew his sword and held it between the priest and the door. “I did not say you could enter.”

The priest’s face turned livid. “You have no right!”

“Actually, as Lord of this territory I could tell you all to pack up and get off my lawn,” Grimm said, with a crooked smile. “And if you don’t behave, I might just do that anyway.”

Sunlight began to concentrate around the priests’ hands, but Grimm jerked his sword up, the edge resting just beneath the priest’s chin. He raised his voice so that the entire gathering could hear him. “I am the Lord Cyclonis, vassal of the Lord Galen of the House of Winds. This is the northernmost outpost of my territory, which stretches out through the plains to the south until they reach the silver mountains.”

“You lie!” snarled the priest. “The Air kin have been dead for millennia!”

“Lie?  In front of all these Truthfinders?” Grimm said, with a rumbling laugh. “Hardly.” He lowered his sword and with a quick gesture of his hand, a gust of wind picked up the priest and dumped him back at the bottom of the stairs. “My people are not dead. Every Storm kin that ever summoned a gale, every sea captain from Oceanis that filled his sails, every Winter kin that summoned the North wind is a cousin of mine. No, my people are not gone. They simply settled down in other Houses and got married.”

A stunned silence settled over the audience. Grimm made a point of catching as many of their eyes as possible. “You will enter in order of precedence, from the oldest Houses to the new. Since there are no other full blooded Wind kindreds present, Ice will start.”  He gave them a brief nod. “Ladies, Gentlemen. I will see you inside.”

The doors blew open before him, and strode into the hall.  He couldn’t help but chuckle again as the clamor began outside, with everyone arguing over the order of entry.

He sent a quick thought to Nox. “Your turn, short-stuff.”

Her thoughts were tinged with laughter. “Get off my lawn? How am I supposed to follow that?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something. You always do…”

(to be continued!)

<-Previous   ~~Beginning~~

Nox and Grimm: A Convocation of Elements – Pt. 1 November 9, 2013

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The morning of the Summer Convocation dawned in a hot, sultry haze. It pressed down on the column of riders, sticking clothes to backs and pushing tempers to their breaking point. Nox looked over her shoulder, trying to gauge how everyone was holding up. The representatives from Ice and Hail were coping well enough; their elements could sweat a bit and still hold together.  Snow and Sleet, however, were miserable and the Frost kindreds looked positively wilted.

Loki rode beside Nox, his brow furrowed as he looked up into the leaden sky. The heat did not bother him, but Fire kindreds did not enjoy humidity.  “This has to be my uncle’s doing, since he still holds the key to Storms. Combine that with the summer sun and he could easily blanket the whole region in this soup.”

“I’d summon up a wind, but there’s only more hot, damp Air to blow at you.”  Grimm’s voice was a faint, rumbling echo in their minds. The Wind knight flew far overhead, scouting the road.  “I still don’t like that you are all riding together. You make a tempting target.”

“Father is convinced there will be more safety in numbers,” Nox said. “And we’ll all be bunched up in one spot anyway once we get to the Convocation Hall.”

“Don’t remind me,” he grumbled.

As if to mock Grimm’s warning Lords Snow and Sleet rode up to meet Nox, with the gaunt Lord Hail trailing behind, a look of disapproval on his face. Snows’ long, thick white hair was plastered to his forehead, and dark sweat stains marked his tunic. “Well, Ice, you’re supposed to own the North wind.  What are you going to do about this heat?”

Hail spurred his horse to catch up. “Cool yourself off, you lazy old goat.”

Snow’s bushy eyebrows knit together. “Ice is supposed to be our leader. Why should I do her job?”

Sleet gave a quick, jerky nod of agreement. “Lucien would do it if he were here.”

“Lucien is over 400 years old,” Hail said, poking a bony finger at Sleet. “You can’t expect a 20 year old girl to match him for power.”

Snow looked as if he’d just been given a present. “If she isn’t fit to rule, then why’d he send her here?”

Loki gave Snow a menacing look, flames dancing along the length of his arm where the dragon tattoo coiled restlessly. “Be careful what you say about my betrothed. If your son had not run off, it would be him patrolling the borders and Lucien would be here. Do not lay his cowardice at Nox’s feet.”

“Cowardice, or common sense?  I’ve always said there’s something odd about Ice, and if my son left he had good reason!“

The dragon mark shot out from Loki’s hand and solidified into an obsidian saber. He spurred his horse in front of Snow, forcing the older man to stop. “Draw. Your. Sword.”

“Lords do not duel, boy,” Snow said, with a sneer.

A predatory smile crossed Loki’s face. “I have not been confirmed yet, have I?”

“I’ll stand for you, Snow!”  Sleet drew his sword, a thin, sharp rapier with a lattice bell guard.

Hail shook his head. “Don’t be a fool. He’ll cut you to mincemeat. Not to mention you owe him a debt. Neither of you would have a territory left to rule if he hadn’t stopped the Morning Lord’s attack.”

Snow turned his sneer on Hail. “Should I thank him from dragging us all into his family squabble? Balor would never have come north if he hadn’t been here!”

Hail’s face darkened. “That’s a lie, and you know it!”

“So,” Nox said, her calm, measured voice cutting through the shouting. “How much did Balor pay you to betray us?”

“What?” Snow sputtered, his eyes bulging.

“How much did he pay you to break our alliance?” Her expression was  cold and implacable.  “All we have to do is arrive at the Convocation together, vote together, and his plans crumble. Yet here you are, picking a fight when we can least afford it. Did he offer you my father’s place as the chief of the Winter Kings?”

Every eye was on Lord Snow. His eyes darted around looking for support, but even Sleet was eyeing him suspiciously. “This is preposterous! You’re just trying to change the subject – we were discussing why you haven’t done anything about the heat!”

She gave him a mocking smile. “Very well then. Loki, be a dear and draw the heat out of the air around us. Channel it out to the Fire nomads in your retinue. That will give them the energy they need to burn off the humidity.  The condensation from the cooler air should be enough to make the rest of us comfortable, and if you kick off a little rain storm, Grimm can blow it past us.”

Loki bowed from the waist with a hand over his heart. “As you wish, luv.”

Snow looked away and muttered, “That isn’t what I asked for.”

Hail let out an amused snort. “No, you asked her to freeze her fiancés giblets. Never thought how the Fire kin would feel about an artic breeze, did you?”  He raised a hand and gave Nox a respectful salute. “Nicely done, young Lady.”

He turned his horse and trotted back to meet up with his retinue, and the other Lords followed in sullen silence.

Loki continued to keep an eye on Snow. “Do you really think he sold out to my uncle?”

Nox thought about it a minute, then shook her head. “No, he’s just a greedy old fool. He thought he could grab a little power while my father was away. I have a feeling he won’t be the last one to challenge my right to be here.”

Loki flexed his arm, dismissing the saber and settling the dragon tattoo back into place. “I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.  But if Snow tries that again, I will kick his ass.”

Nox leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Aww, you always say the sweetest things!”

From overhead, Grimm’s called down to them. “Two more miles to go. I can see the city walls…”

(to be continued…)

<-Previous    ~~Beginning~~

Nox and Grimm – A Changed Man October 11, 2013

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It was nearly midnight when Grimm returned to the House of Ice.  As he flew over the rooftops of the mansion he could see a few lights still on in the windows. Not surprisingly, most of them were in Nox’s suite.  “She has more coffee than blood in her veins,” he said, with a rumbling laugh.

He was careful to set down far enough away from her avoid triggering the enchantments her father placed on him. As he touched down in a courtyard he could already feel the change coming over him,  and the urge to howl his annoyance was almost overwhelming.  He gave a quick nod to the guards and strode into the building, fighting the transformation with every step.

He always fought it. Resisting the spells placed on him had become so ingrained that he never even thought about it anymore, it had become reflex.  A sudden chill stood his hair on end as the enchantment crushed in on him.  He growled, his steps slowing as if we walked in deep snowdrifts. He leaned into the resistance, forcing himself one step further, then another before his body began to blur and fade.

Finally, he had to give up or risk injuring himself. For one brief moment a being of pure Air, invisible, and then settled into the shape of a large, shaggy wolf-hound.

Grimm heaved a sigh and shook himself from nose to tail. Maybe next time…

When he got to Nox’s room he paused outside the door, ears pointed forward, listening as she chanted out some sort of incantation. There was a strange metallic creaking sound, followed by her letting out a string of curses. That last was usually a sign that the spellcasting was over and it was safe to enter. He pushed open the door with a paw.

She was standing on a wooden crate overlooking a huge, rectangular table that dominated the room. It was covered by a detailed map of the world, and a tiny clockwork dragon sat to one side, puffing out smoke and making creaking noises as it folded its wings.  She frowned at it as she pushed a stray lock of her thick, black hair away from her face. “C’mon in, Grimm. I’m not doing anything explosive.”

“I always prefer to be careful,” Grimm said, padding over to sit next to her. He was big enough to look over her shoulder, even with her up on the box. “I do not want to get my fur singed off.”

“Oh, I don’t know, you might look good shaved like a poodle,” she said, grinning as he bared his teeth in mock-anger. “Seriously though, how did it go at Convocation Hall?”

He shrugged. “You are going to get your wish. I’m coming with you tomorrow.”

“H’ray!” she said, and threw her arms around his neck in a hug. She almost immediately let him go. “Oh wait, that means something went wrong.”

“I had a visit from Katya. She was controlling one of the Truthfinders.”

Her eyes widened in dismay. “Just one? Or have the lot of them gotten compromised?”

“Just the one, and I was able to drive her out. Still couldn’t kill her though,” he said, letting out a disgruntled growl. “She had allies nearby; as soon as she fled the storms kicked up to hurricane strength.”

Now it was Nox’s turn to shrug. “Well, we knew the Morning Lord had stolen the Key to Storms. I suppose we should be glad it’s not his element, or we’d get so much rain we’d have mushrooms growing behind our ears.”

“Small favors,” Grimm agreed.  He looked over the map, and pointed with his nose toward the dragon. “Dare I ask what this is for?”

“Aura trace. I’m trying to find Loki’s brother.”

Grimm tilted his head to one side, giving her a quizzical look. “I thought he was dead?”

“So did I. Apparently Balor has been dropping hints for years that he has him as a hostage though, to keep Father from pounding him into tar.” She waved her hand over the dragon, and with a whirr of gears and a whistle of steam it flew up to circle around the table. “This is a variation of the spell I used on you, remember? Only instead of trying to pull away a spell that’s tangled in your aura, I’m trying to have the spell pull it towards the target aura.” The dragon kept circling, but never once looked down at the map. She scowled at it and waved her hand in irritation, and it landed again with a tinny thunk.  “It should work, dangit. Even if he’s gone there would be traces left of his bones.”

Grimm shook his head. “You forget, he has been in the hands of a Shadowkin and her puppets for fifteen years. The sample aura you used is almost certainly from before that time. His aura will be changed.”

She smacked herself in the forehead. “Crud, you’re right!  Wouldn’t it be just like them to hide him in plain sight as a New Dawn priest? They’ve had ample time to brainwash him.”

Her expression changed from frustration to horror. “Oh no. Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?” Grimm asked.

“What if he was one of the priests Balor used in that sacrifice up on the mountain? By the time he and Loki were done fighting there was nothing left but ash!”

Grimm thought about that a minute, then shook his head. “No, Balor is a coward. He would not risk his only insurance against Lucien taking the field against him.”

Nox let out a gusty sigh, her brow still furrowed with concern. “Let’s hope you’re right. The question now is, how do we find him if his aura has changed?”

“Find the one who changed him. They would have to take a graft of the new aura off one of Katya’s minions. We can start with the priest who tried to change Loki.”

“He’ll be at the Convocation in Balor’s place. Everyone is furious that the old bastard won’t be there to own up to his crimes.” She let out an amused snort. “Or they’re terrified of what he’ll do while they’re away from their homes. I doubt he’ll be the only one sending a proxy. Oh well, it’ll work out better for us this way. We just need a little something that belongs to the priest, maybe a bit of cloth?”

Grimm’s ears perked up. “I can handle that part. Will a strand of hair do?”

“That will be perfect,” Nox said.  She picked up the dragon and took a small key out from between its wings. It slowly wound down, and lay as if asleep in her hand. “Well, I guess we’d better get some rest as well. Tomorrow is going to be a long day…”

<- Previous       –Beginning

Nox and Grimm: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? October 5, 2013

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The desk in Nox’s suite was littered with notes. Enchanted paper messenger birds, sent by her father, had arrived in a steady stream for the past several hours. One by one they would appear overhead with a tiny *pop* and then flutter down to the desk and unfold themselves, revealing the message written within.

Nox sighed as another one appeared. “I wish father wouldn’t have waited till the day before the Convocation to go over everything.” She scribbled a quick reply, dropped her quill pen back into the inkwell and made the intricate folds to turn the paper back into a bird.  It chirped as the enchantments activated. Then it zipped upwards and circled twice around the room before disappearing with another *pop*.

Loki paced restlessly nearby, staring out the floor-length windows that lined the one wall.  “I think he hoped to be done and back before today. Resetting the defenses around the borders should not have taken this long.”  He stopped by the desk, reading the latest message and shook his head. “He should have let Grimm handle it.”

“Except that Grimm wouldn’t leave my side, not while my sight was still impaired.” Nox looked at the absurdly large pile of papers in front of her and grimaced. “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m almost wishing I was still blind. Almost.”

“Don’t even joke about, that, luv.”  Loki picked up a blank sheet of paper and made as if to take the quill, then put the paper down and went back to pacing.

Nox waved off the next bird that appeared and sent it up to flit about the roof. She got up and placed herself right in Loki’s path, forcing him to stop. She frowned up at him, hands on her hips. “You have been wearing a groove into my floor all night. C’mon, out with it. What’s got you in such a bother?”

“You aren’t the only one getting messages from Lucien.”  He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her.

Nox’s frown deepened as she read it. “Do we go to war…why in the world would he ask you to make that call?”

He gave her an incredulous look. “You really don’t know? Bloody Hel, the sheer number of things your parents kept from you is appalling.”

She rolled her eyes. “If I got upset every time I found out another of their secrets, I’d spend my whole life yelling at them.”  She took his hand and pulled him over to a long, squashy couch that Grimm usually sprawled out on when he stayed in her rooms. She sat and patted the cushion next to her.  “Have a seat. We might as well be comfy while you fill me in.”

Loki sat on the edge of the couch and leaned forward, his forarms resting on his thighs. “Back when we were all still little, your father and mine swore a binding oath to protect each other’s children, should anything go wrong. The oath was sealed in blood and tied to their elements. It was probably my father’s idea,” he said, with a sad smile. “It was the sort of grand gesture he liked to make.”

Nox nodded, reaching a hand out to hold his. “That’s why my father rescued you, and kept you hidden. I know that.”

Loki turned to look at her, fires burning in the depths of his cinnamon colored eyes. “But do you know why he never went to war? Despite having his best friend murdered? He and my father were like brothers.”

“I had wondered about that,” Nox said. “Tactically it made no sense for him to allow Balor so much time to secure his hold on the Fire territories. And you turned twenty one a few years ago.”  She pursed her lips, thinking the puzzle through. “Something held him back. I assumed it was my mother, but…oh, great skies. Your brother is alive?”

“We think so. I hope so. Nothing else could have stayed your father’s wrath.”

“But you don’t know for sure?” Nox asked.

Loki shook his head. “The firethorn vines would not have…” he paused, looking slightly ill. “My brother was only four. There wasn’t much left of the adults.” He swallowed a few times, and took a deep breath. “I still have nightmares about what I saw. But my uncle has dropped enough hints to keep us guessing as to what happened to Kynon.”

“All those years you worked as a spy,” Nox said, her eyes widening. “Using masking potion to change your face, visiting all those foreign territories. You were looking for him!”

“And now I have to decide if the hunt should stop,” Loki said, his expression bleak. “There is still a little over a year until he reaches twenty one, and I am the only member of my family left that can release Lucien from his oath before that time. Odds are Kynon is dead but, how can I make that call? Weigh his life against everyone else who may suffer if we let my uncle live?”

Nox stared at him for a long moment. Then she slugged him in the arm. “Did it never once occur to you that I might be able to help find him? I am an expert in auramancy, you know.”

“Ow!” he said. “Easy, luv. Your mother said there was no way to do an aura trace.”

“My mother,” she said, angrily. “Who was being used as a puppet by the Shadowkin for the past twenty years. The same Shadowkin that works with your uncle.”

Loki’s face went pale. “Oh, bugger me sideways.  She was ‘helping’ direct my search.”

“Not anymore,” Nox said, her face set and determined. “Do you have something of his? Something personal?”

“Of course.” He got up and rummaged through the pockets of his coat, pulling out a small, glass dragon that was a roly-poly version of the tattoo on his arm. “Try not to laugh. I was nine when I made this for him.”

Nox took it and held it up for close inspection. She whispered a few words and the dragon glowed, a mix of scarlet and reddish gold light swirling around it. “I can see small marks on the horns. I take it they turn?”

“Yes. It’s a night light. He was afraid of the dark, so I made a light that would only turn on when we both twisted one of the horns. I used to help him light it every night, so that he would not be afraid.” He stopped to clear his throat. “He gave it to me the night of the attack, when our parents hid me in the  cistern. He couldn’t swim, so they had to find somewhere else to hide him. But it was so dark down there, he wanted me to have it.”  He had to stop again, his voice too choked with emotion to go on.

Nox turned the dragon this way and that, studying every inch of it. There wasn’t much of his brother’s aura left, but it would have to be enough. “Well, I already know how to replicate scraps of auras. I did the same with Grimm a few years back, to help break a spell Mother put on him.” She nodded to herself. “Yes, I will make it be enough.”

Loki leaned over and gave her a long, passionate kiss. “Thank you,” he said.

Nox was so flustered by the kiss she could barely sputter out a reply. “Oh, well, I um, haven’t done anything yet.”

“Yes, you have,” Loki said, holding her close. “You’ve given me hope. More than I’ve had in a very long time.”  He let her go and walked over the desk, writing out a quick reply to Lucien. “We will play political chess with my uncle a little longer until we are sure, one way or another about Kynon.”

“If he lives, I will find him,” Nox said.

There were fires burning again in Loki’s eyes. “And then we go to war.”


<–Previous   –BeginningNext->

Nox and Grimm – Knight Wind September 6, 2013

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The chill of the flagstones woke Morvrain, as he found himself still lying on the floor of the guard room in a pool of his own blood. The stab wound in his gut burned like acid, and if he could have caught his breath he would have howled in pain.

The Wind Knight, Grimm, had managed to get the door to the chamber shut, and was busy activating the protective casting marks on either side of the door. It shook under repeated blows from the Truthfinders outside – they were all Stone kindreds like Morvrain, and he knew it was only a matter of time until they broke in.  Them, and whatever that thing that was that controlled Malach.

Grimm turned and knelt down beside him. “The protections on this room are solid, but very old. They’ll hold for a little while, but we will need to move soon.” He placed his hands palm down on either side of Morvrain’s wound, and closed his eyes.  “Try to stay still. This won’t hurt, but it will feel odd.”

Warmth spread outwards from his hands, and Morvrain shuddered as he watched the hole from the sword wound close itself. It would have been fascinating to watch if it hadn’t been his own stomach writhing back into its original shape.

The pounding on the door stopped, but the wall behind them rattled as the other Truthfinders tried to rip open a new entrance. “Forget me,” he said, “go and get that creature out of Malach! Kill him if you must, but free him!”

Grimm let out a rude snort. “I’m sure Katya would love that. Leave you here to bleed out, only to have her jump out of Malach the second I cut him down? She’d have me framed for two murders then.”

The aching cold left Morvrain’s midriff, and strength slowly returned to his limbs. He found he could sit up, with Grimm’s help. “It’s a she?  And you know it?”

“I ought to. I nearly married her.”

Morvrain thought of the oily black substance that had run from Malach’s eyes, and he recoiled in horror.

“To be fair she was a lot prettier back then,” Grimm said, pushing himself back to his feet. “Although, I guess that was a borrowed body as well.” He shook his head. “Women. You can’t live with them, and I can’t seem to kill this one. But it’s not for lack of trying.”

The wall next to the door started to crack under the repeated assaults.  “Hmm, time to go, I think.” Grimm held out a hand to help Morvrain to his feet. “Are you afraid of heights?”

“No,” Morvrain said cautiously. “Why?”

“Good.” Grimm clapped his hands together in a quick pattern, and a gust of wind shot them straight upwards.  A panel in the ceiling slid aside just in time to let them past, and they rocketed up through a narrow tunnel, popping out into the leaden skies over the Convocation hall. The rain sheeted around them as they hovered, at least fifty feet above the ground, but they remained dry in the middle of a bubble of air.

Later, Morvrain would be pleased to remember that he had not screamed aloud. If he had had a lot to drink he might admit that it was probably only because he was shaking so hard his teeth rattled in his head. At the time, however, he was still in too much shock to say anything.

Grimm put a steadying hand on his shoulder, and another wave of warmth rushed through him. “Hang in there, friend. You only need to do one more thing before you can rest.” They floated across the rooftops, and stopped again over a broad, flat area. “The main hall is below us. I need you to break that fire charm she put on the Wardstone. I can’t hold off your colleagues, and her, and put the stone back into the correct pattern at the same time.”

Morvrain forced his sluggish thoughts back into motion. “Won’t that charm start affecting us again as soon as we go back in?”

“Probably,” Grimm said. He lowered them down onto the roof, and carefully removed a few roof tiles to reveal a maintenance hatch. “If it makes you feel the need to get fanatical about something, focus on breaking the charm.” He pulled the hatch open, and peered inside. “Are you ready?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Grimm gave him a crooked smile. “Down we go.”

They lifted up abruptly, and shot down through the opening, at a speed that Morvrain was convinced had left his stomach somewhere back on the roof. The hall spread out below them, a cavernous amphitheater with balconies lining the viewing boxes that covered the back wall. They flew over the tiers of chairs, through the open doors and landed right behind the Wardstone.

Morvrain had a single moment when they landed to draw in as much energy from the stone as he could, and then the charm hit him again. It was like a fever in the mind, burning away reason until there was nothing left but a wild, uncontrollable rage. And it needed a target.

Grimm was already locked in combat with the other Truthfinders. Something in Morvrain’s mind snapped when he saw this stranger fighting his men. His friends, his comrades. The man had dared to lie to him, a Truthfinder, if only by omission. The rage built, a searing blaze that turned his vision red.

Morvrain’s sword was in his hand, glowing like a beacon as moved to stab Grimm in the back.

As he raised the blade, a small voice to whispered to him, “How is this justice?”

His sword had only spoken to him so clearly once before, on the day it had chosen him to join the ranks of Truthfinders. He froze, arm poised, as the Knight fought desperately to keep the other Truthfinders at bay.

“Hurry up!” Grimm yelled. “I don’t want to have hurt them!”

Morvrain shook himself, as if waking from a dream. The sword hummed in approval and grew heavier, pulling his arm down to point at the base of the Wardstone.  Odd markings glowed on its surface like coals, tampering with the protections built into the ancient pillar.  His eyes narrowed and the boiling rage built up inside him again at the sight of it. The obsession with justice had a new target.

He slashed downwards with all his might, drawing in so much strength from the ancient stones that he sheared straight through the marks and buried his sword in the pillar.

The blast as the Fire charm broke picked him up like a giant hand and threw him back toward the door. He saw the door frame rushing toward him, and closed his eyes, knowing the impact would crush him…

…and then he stopped, hanging in mid-air as the Wind Knight spun around, gathering up all the energy of the blast into a vortex around him.  Morvrain saw a single sigil near the base of the pillar light up. “You’re from House Cyclonis?” he said, stunned. “But they’ve all been dead for two thousand years…”

He had almost convinced himself that the knight was some imposter, a Storm kin masquerading as a Wind Knight. Why else would the rain bend around him? And yet, he had healed Morvrain’s wound, and the markings on the Wardstone were never wrong…

The winds died down and he settled onto the floor. His colleagues lay around the Wardstone, unconscious but apparently unharmed. The knight stalked forward toward Malach, who had somehow remained standing. “Ditch the puppet, Katya, and let us finish this.”

Liquid darkness streamed from Malachs eyes and nose and mouth, and he collapsed into a heap on the floor, convulsing. The oily shadows formed into a cloud that swirled around and settled into the shape of a woman. Morvrain gasped as it solidified into a stunningly beautiful Woods kindred. A teasing smile curled her lips. “Well, beloved? Is this truly the end?”

Grimm motioned to the side with his blade. “Move away from the boy.”

“Ah yes,” she said, laughing. “Trust issues. Very well, my darling Grey. But I want a kiss before I go.”

He moved forward, the sword held out between them. “Death is the only lover you need court now.”

She looked at the blade, licked her lips nervously and backed away. “It wasn’t all an act, you know. Ask that young Fireborn, Loki.  He was a spy once, he will know – even when you infiltrate an enemy’s camp, you can’t lie with someone without feeling something.”  She looked up, her leaf-green eyes welling with tears. “I had to do what I did. You don’t walk away from the Shadowkin, beloved. Not for anyone.”

Morvrain held his breath, captivated by the drama unfolding before his eyes. Her words wrapped around him like a balm. Surely the knight would forgive her?

Then Morvrain’s sword whispered, “She’s lying.”

Grimm must have heard it as well. He exploded into motion, his broadsword scything through the air –but Katya had already darted away.  The lovely apparition collapsed into an oily black cloud that wailed as it ran before him, and disappeared out the front doors into the pouring rain.

The knight skidded to halt just inside the doors. “Oh no. I won’t go running headlong into your traps again, beloved,” he said, the last word ending in a growl. On the floor at his feet, his shadow warped and took on the snarling visage of a hound.

Morvrain looked from him, to his shadow, and back again. “What in Hel’s name are you?”

Grimm shook himself, and his shadow went back to normal. “Complicated.”

And Morvrain’s blade indicated that was the truth. It almost sounded like it was laughing as it said it…


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Nox and Grimm – The Devil Inside August 23, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Following an armed stranger into a hidden room was probably not one of the brightest things Morvrain had ever done. Every instinct was telling him not to trust this man – but then, his instincts had told him to kill him without trial or proof of guilt. He couldn’t trust them either.

Morvrain shook his head. The only way to find out which of them to believe was to play along with ‘Grimm,’ until he showed his true colors. He would not let his men take such a risk however. He motioned them to take up positions outside, with one holding the door open, and cautiously followed the knight into the musty, ancient guard chamber.

The room itself was something of a marvel. It was lit by cunningly placed mirrors that reflected daylight in through narrow channels in the thick stone walls. They also allowed the occupants to view the area in front of the main entry doors without being seen. Clean, cool air without a hint of the rain outside circulated through the chambers, keeping the obviously antique furniture from being covered with dust. Racks of weapons, as brightly polished and sharp as the day they were set aside covered one wall, and a doorway led to a barracks room with neatly made beds. Personal effects from their former occupants were scattered about, in various states of decay. One still had a book sitting open on it, with a ribbon down the spine to mark where the reader left off.

The knight’s shoulders bowed as if under a great weight. “They thought they were coming back.” He let out a heavy sigh, and sat down on one of the sturdy benches that surrounded a central trestle table. “Have a seat, gentlemen. I’m sure the spirits of those that once served here would not mind.”

Morvrain sat gingerly on a bench. If his guess was right it was several thousand years old, and he half-expected it to turn to dust beneath him. It only creaked a little, but he still sat lightly on it. “By all accounts you are one of those spirits.”

Grimm let out a rumbling laugh. “No. Not quite. Though I was under a curse for a very long time.”

“How long?”

A crooked smile was all the answer he got to his question. “Channel some of your element. It will help counter the effects of the Fire charm that has been clouding your judgement.”

That at least sounded like a good idea. The first one he’d heard all day. The sword at his hip hummed in agreement. The stones here were ancient, laden with power, and as he drew on their strength he felt the headache that had plagued him fade away. It was time for him to retake control of the situation. “I’ll ask again, who are you?”

“The question you want to ask is, who was I.”  Grimm looked back at the barracks, lines of sorrow etched in his face. “I was a Wind knight. Does that make you feel any less fearful?”

Morvrain bristled at the dodge. “Your name, sir knight.”

“I told you my name.”

“My sword says otherwise.”

“Your sword,” he said, turning back, “isn’t old enough to understand nuance. I answer to Grimm now.”

That wasn’t the whole truth, but it was close enough that Morvrain was willing to let it drop. For the moment. “You mentioned a Fire charm?”

The knight leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “It’s a subtle one. Fire is passion, which can be expressed in many ways. In this case, a person touched by the charm becomes so passionate it turns to obsession, and it clouds their reason. Look at you and your men. You became so fanatical about enacting ‘justice’ on the one you thought had altered the wardstone that you were willing to commit murder.”

The energy from the ancient stones still flowed into Morvrain, helping stave off the urge to renew combat. But a part of him screamed that ‘Grimm’ was lying by omission about his true name, and to lie to a Truthfinder meant death.  Nothing else he said mattered. Even as the thought crossed his mind, his hand twitched down toward his blade.

Grimm followed the motion with his eyes, but made no move to draw his own blade. “We are on the edge of war. Imagine what will happen if all those volatile, angry, and scared Lords of the Great Houses get touched by this charm. Someone wanted a bloodbath.”

Morvrain had never killed a suspect without the due process of a trial before, but there was always a first time. His hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword – and it gave him a jolt that set his hair on end. Reason came back to him in a rush, along with the sick realization that his mind was not entirely his own right now. He jumped up from the bench so quickly that he knocked it over. “What is happening to us?”

The guard holding the door open moved inside and let it snap shut behind him.  “He’s cast a spell on you, justice Morvrain. Stand by me and together we can take him.”

Morvrain looked from the knight, back to his junior officer. “Malach. Channel energy from the stones. That’s an order.”

Grimm moved up to stand by his side. “Ask him his name, Truthfinder. His real name.”

Malach hissed, and the shadows cast by the light streaming into room seemed to wrap around him. “You were always a clever one, Grimmalkyn.”

Now the knight drew his sword. “Leave the boy go, Katya. This is between you and me.”

An oily black substance filled Malach’s eyes, and wept out of them like tears. “If you want me, you must kill my puppet, darling. I find I like wearing Stone kindreds. They last longer than most.” He let out an off-kilter laugh. “Oh, but wait. You bear Death’s sword, and cannot take a soul before it’s time. Oh yes, there is still a bit of Malach left in here. Somewhere.”

Morvrain drew his own sword. “Malach would rather be dead than this.” Behind him, he heard Grimm yell, “NO!” but he had already gone on the attack.

Every other time they had sparred, Morvrain came out the better. But not this time. Malach seemed to have gained a skill far beyond his years, his blade dancing around Morvrain’s defences. There was no room to retreat, no space for the knight to fight beside him.

He heard the knight start chanting and the air moving through the room picked up speed.

Malach’s eyes narrowed. “A good try, Grimmalkyn, but too late.”  His sword flashed out, and suddenly Morvrain was on the floor. A dark pool spread out from his midriff, which burned and felt cold all at once.

Malach fled through the door. “The suspect has killed Justice Morvrain! To arms!”

The last thing Morvrain remembered was his sword giving him the useless message that Malach was lying…


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Nox and Grimm – Friend or Foe August 16, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The rain swept down the city streets in waves like heavy grey curtains. The summer heat had finally broken in violent storms that buried the cobblestones in ankle-deep water, and thunder made hollow echoes in the alleyways. A lone figure made its way toward the ancient Convocation Hall, wrapped in a heavy cloak with a deeply cowled hood.

Truthfinder Morvrain watched his quarry from the shadows of a side alley, sizing up his opponent. The target was almost certainly a man, tall, broad shouldered, and by the way he moved he wore armor beneath the cloak. The rain seemed to bend around him as if he were the prow of a ship, leaving his cloak completely dry.

Morvrain held his breath as the man passed his hiding place. He paused for half a heartbeat, head tilted slightly as if listening, but there was no way he could hear anything over the drumming sound of the rain. Was there?  Thankfully he kept going, and Morvrain exhaled slowly in relief.

Then he waited until he was sure his target had gone far enough ahead before following. Someone had begun to tamper with the wardstone that guarded the entrance to the central meeting chamber. He’d interrupted their work by accident last time, as he patrolled the marble halls on another rainy, windswept day.  They’d gotten away then but he knew if he was patient, they would come back to finish the job.  They always came back to the scene of the crime, a fact that never ceased to amaze him, if only because it seemed so foolish.

The man strode quickly across the street in front of the Hall and took the stairs two at a time. He stopped before the massive carved oak doors and studied the frame around them for a moment, before touching a worn carving of a windflower. The doors swung open without a sound, and the darkness inside swallowed him up.

Morvrain signaled to two of his own men who were also waiting in side alleys to follow him in.  He stopped for a second at the entrance, and for the first time ever he noticed the hint of weathered, old casting marks on the carvings.  They faded away as he watched, answering the question of how he had missed them before.

His men caught up, and two more came out of the gloom from side hallways. One of them leaned in close to whisper, “He went straight for the wardstone.”

He nodded his thanks. “Fan out, and be ready for a fight.”

The cloaked man knelt before the stone – though in reality it was more a pillar, thirty feet of granite rising up to a rough-hewn capstone at the roof.  It was covered with casting marks that twined around its length, mixed in with the symbols for each of the Elemental Houses. Morvrain strained his eyes through the darkness to see what symbol lit up as his quarry touched the stone, but it was hidden by the cloak. Only a breath of air stirred, sighing through the empty halls.

All five Truthfinders moved forward as one, drawing in energy from their own element of Stone to muffle their footsteps on the cold marble.  Morvrain gripped the hilt of his sword, feeling the enchantments forged into it thrumming beneath his hand. He waited to draw it though, not wanting its glow to give him away.  Their circle tightened, and his heart pounded with equal parts adrenaline and anger as he moved into place. With a roar he drew his sword in a blinding flash of light, and attacked.

The man should have had no chance to defend himself but somehow he whirled around, faster than anyone his size had a right to move. He caught Morvrain’s blade on his own, sidestepped, ducked beneath a second sword thrust and neatly disentangling his own blade while shoving one of Morvrain’s men into a third with his free hand. He continued the movement, never stopping, the heavy broadsword he wielded whistling through the air as quick as a willow switch. Two more blades clanged together, and the light on one went out as it flew from its owner’s hand.  The sword their opponent held had no light at all. If anything, it seemed to swallow it up.

Morvrain swore as the man made a sudden rush to break through their lines.  He threw himself in the way, just barely catching the dark blade on his own. “Fool! You should have never come back!”

He caught a glimpse of a craggy, weather beaten face that was criss-crossed by the faint silver lines of old scars. Dark grey eyes glinted in the light of Morvrain’s blade.  “Back? I haven’t been here in centuries.”

“Liar!” Morvrain snarled, trying to maneuver his opponent into the path of the other Truthfinders.

He batted Morvrain’s blade aside. “Look to your sword, man. If I were lying it would know.”

A pulse of warm, soothing energy ran up through Morvrain’s palm, and he looked at the softly glowing light that ran along the sword’s edge. It was clear and steady.

The man moved to allow himself to keep a wary eye on his five opponents. “I know my information is badly out of date, but I thought Truthfinders at least gave a man the right of trial before taking off his head.”

The truth of those words hit Morvrain like hammer blows. What was he doing?  He had dedicated his entire life to serving justice, yet here he was, attacking a complete stranger from behind without warning, and trying to kill him without so much as learning his name. His head started to ache so badly that he thought it would split open, till it was all he could do hold up a shaking hand to call off the attack. “Who are you?” he croaked, his mouth suddenly gone dry. “Why are you here?”

“You can call me Grimm.  I am here to check on the castings built into ward stone, although, I would say that is not the only thing that’s been tampered with.” He sheathed his sword in a smooth, practiced motion and moved to a wall near the entrance to the building. A touch of his hand and whispered word opened another door that Morvrain never knew existed. “Let’s have a seat in the guard room. We need to talk…”


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Nox and Grimm – If It’s Not Baroque August 3, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , , , ,
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The stack of papers in front of Nox wasn’t getting any smaller. She stifled a sigh, dipped a quill into the inkwell and blotted the nib so that it wouldn’t dribble. She’d had an idea for a writing implement with a reservoir built in, but like so many of her plans it had been shelved away. A few months ago she was exploring the ruins of the House of Winds. Now, she was the ruler of the House of Ice and until her father returned home she was bound by duty to see that their territory was run smoothly.

Which meant wading through endless piles of paperwork. Her secretary, a thin, angular old Ice kindred named Galton stood by her elbow, ready to pick up each signed missive as soon as the ink dried. He cleared his throat, a sound she was beginning to loath.  “Ach-hem.  My lady, may I bring up a small issue?”

Be nice, he’s been a fixture here for hundreds of years, she reminded herself. She plastered a smile on her face and looked up at him. “Yes, Galton?”

“I know you have more important things to deal with, but if I may bring up the matter again of your quarters. Your father did request you have rooms appropriate to your new station.”

“We’ve been over this, Galton.”

He bobbed his head, making the wisps of white hair that fringed his scalp flutter like cobwebs. “I know, my lady, but you must admit that this…table is hardly the proper furnishing to make an impression on your guests. Nor is the room large enough to fit more than a handful of visitors.”

Nox leveled a cool look at him. “This is the field desk my father has used in every war he’s fought. It’s making a statement, which I assure you will make an impression that will more than make up for the room.”

Galton let out a resigned sigh. “Yes, my lady. That it will.”

He looked so dejected that Nox immediately felt bad about glaring at him. “I suppose I could consider a larger room. What one did you have in mind?”

“Your great-great-great-grandmother Nadine’s quarters,” he said, beaming.

Inwardly, Nox groaned.  “The one at the end of the hall on the third floor?”

“Yes!”

“With the marble floors?”

“You remember it then!” he said.

“And all those hideous gilt monstrosities she called furniture?”

Galton frowned in disapproval. “They are priceless antiques.”

“Everything in this mansion is an antique. No matter though,” Nox said, a mischievous smile putting dimples into her cheeks. “I can put the extra space to good use. But,” she said, holding up a hand to forestall anything further he might add, “you will not waste anyone’s time by having those travesties of interior decor cleaned. I intend to redecorate.”

Nox handed him the pile of paperwork and swept out of the room. “Prioritize those for later, please. I’ll be busy for the next few hours.”

He trailed out of the room after her, bewildered. “But, don’t you need staff to help you?”

“Nope. That will be all, Galton, thank you,” she said. “OY! GRIMM! Where are you, you great furry lump!”

A drowsy thought floated through her mind, quiet and distorted as if it came from a great distance. “In my room, short-stuff. I was remembering…”

Nox’s smile softened. Ever since getting his memories back, Grimm spent all of his free time wandering through his yesterdays. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like, to have a whole life suddenly returned after two thousand years of emptiness. “Sorry to interrupt, but can I borrow you for a little while? I have a project I could use your help with.”

The hound’s thoughts became more focused. “I will be there in a moment.”

He met up with her outside of Lady Nadine’s suite.  Nox had already thrown the doors open, revealing the space in all its gaudy glory. Grimm’s ears flattened. “Skies above, would you look at that couch? It’s big enough that I could use it for a bed. Although, I’d be afraid it would swallow me whole and spit me back out covered in brocade and lace doilies.”

Nox snickered. “If you think that’s bad, check out her chair. Nothing says “I’m compensating” like a gilt throne on four foot high dais.” She walked inside and pulled up the dust ruffle on one of the settees. There was a large chunk taken out of the carved wooden leg. “Hah, they never fixed it!  I talked Kel into helping me freeze the floor once. We had a great ice hockey match going, until mother showed up. That was the day I learned the meaning of the word apoplectic.”

Grimm let out whurfs of canine laughter. “I can just imagine. So, what did you want to do with this stuff? I would have thought Loki was a better choice for a cleansing by fire.”

“Sorry, no bonfires today. Poor Galten would have a heart attack. No, I was thinking this was a good chance for me to start practicing using the elements again.”  She patted her pockets, searching for a scrap of paper she had covered with casting marks earlier that morning. “Ah, here it is. What do you think of this?”

Grimm studied the paper for a moment, and then rolled his eyes. “Technomancers. Honestly, you are never happy unless you’re blowing things up.”

“Damn, I was sure this would work.” Nox looked over the calculations again, her lips pursed together.

“Oh, it’ll work,” Grimm said. “But how do you intend to stop it without causing a backlash?”

Nox brighted up. “That’s the part I need your help with. If I put Air castings around the edges of the Ice to wear away at the marks, it should keep the chain reaction from getting out of control. I just need to know the right marks to simulate the slow, steady wear of a constant wind in a canyon or mountain pass.”

Grimm looked at the casting marks again. “Hmm. That might work but it is damned dangerous. Why do you need to do this, anyway? There are easier ways to move furniture than to slide them across linked casting marks.”

“Because I have to prove my abilities before I can take my father’s place in the Convocation,” Nox said. She threw her hands up in frustration. “Thanks to mother’s spell I can’t even make an ice cube without breaking out in a sweat.  I have to find some way to multiply what little energy I can channel, or let the whole world know how broken I am. I figured if this furniture gets a little beat up while I test my theories, almost no-one will care.”

A wave of sympathy came through their bond. “You are mending, little one. Give it time.”

“That’s just it, Grimm, I don’t have time. The next meeting of the Convocation is in two weeks. I can’t fake that test.” She gave him a pleading look. “Will you help me?”

“Always. Though sometimes I wonder if that’s a good thing.” He sat with his tail curled around his paws, and sent a stream of Air casting marks out into the room with a low bark. “You will have to set off two chain reactions, like setting a backfire to contain a wildfire. I don’t think I have to tell you what will happen if you lose your concentration. You see? This one I made already tries to consume itself and implode.”

Nox flung out her hand and a glittering circle of Ice casting marks landed on the floor, and started to spread. “Don’t worry. Technomancy teaches you to stay focused – I haven’t let my mind wander since the first time I blew my lab to smithereens.”

“Then how do you explain all the other explosions?” Grimm grumbled.

Nox ignored him. She was too busy taking apart his example, and replacing it with her own Air casting. She let out a series of whistles, each one a different pitch to match the mixed tones he had made in his bark.

“You should do those together,” he said.

“Show me how later,” Nox replied. The ice was spreading rapidly, covering the floor in delicate frost patterns before solidifying. She let out one last whistle and clapped her hands.

The furniture shook as ice built up beneath them in, forming a slope. They rattled up higher, started to tilt, then shot down the ice ramps.  They slid out through the doors on a trail of ice that constantly spread out before them. The air casting followed, eating away at the remains of Nox’s little ice road and whirled just ahead as well to guide the ice around corners. Nox let out a whoop and skated it after it, whizzing past the slack-jawed mansion staff that had come out to see what the commotion was.

Grimm loped along behind, shouting out instructions. “A little to the left! Slow down for that corner! More speed on the Air casting, the ice is growing too fast!”

Nox raced ahead, almost close enough to touch the ottoman that was bringing up the rear. “OPEN THE STORAGE ROOM DOORS!” she bellowed.

A serving maid ran to comply, and yanked them clear a bare moment before the furniture slid past. Nox grinned and waved as she went by, and then sang out a long, clear note.  The Air casting roared in response, and ate away at the remains of the Ice casting, spending all its energy on the task.

Nox glided to a halt and picked up the last small piece of Ice just in time for it to collapse on itself with a tiny piff of cold air.

Grimm shook his shaggy head and let out an amused snort. “Well, as explosions go that wasn’t too bad.”

Nox flashed him a grin. “No, but the day is still young. And I still have to move in all the furniture I want to use…”


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New Blog Series! From Scene to Screen August 1, 2013

Posted by techtigger in Reviews.
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Woohoo! I am very excited to announce I’ll be writing a bi-monthly (or possibly monthly, we’ll see) column on http://fridayflash.org called “From Scene to Screen.” I’ll be discussing books that got made into movies, from a writers’ perspective. (which is not the same as a movie critic!)
I’ll be looking at what worked and what didn’t in both media, and discussing things that writers can learn from them both.

The first one went live today - I’ve dug up a classic, Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars series, which recently got made into the movie John Carter. Stop by FFDO and chime in, I’d love to hear what you thought of them both!

-Angie

Turning a Wrong into a Right July 21, 2013

Posted by techtigger in interview, writing.
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I was recently asked to submit a quick recap to a serial community I’ve supported for years. They needed content for a podcast, and while I didn’t have much time for it, I tossed something together anyway. I have always enjoyed promoting serials wherever I find them on the web. I did it for years on The Penny Dreadful because I simply love the format. Serials are fabulous.

I have to say, when I hit the send button I wasn’t expecting to get kicked in the teeth. It was patently obvious from their comments that they had never bothered to actually read my serial. It’s hard to hear someone who knows nothing about your work putting it down. I trusted them, I supported them, and I paid for it.

There are a lot of things I could have done. But let’s face it, this sort of thing happens all the time in the writing and entertainment biz. You can’t let it get to you. So I have decided to take my bad experience and turn it into something good.

You see, I have missed doing the weekly interviews on The Penny Dreadful. We always took the time to learn about the writer, their work, and asked intelligent questions. We treated them with respect. And why? Because we are writers too, and know how hard it is to do what we do.

My day job does not allow me time to do the weekly twitter chats anymore. But there is no reason why I can’t interview a serial author and post it once a month on my blog. I want to get back to doing what I love – reading and supporting serials.

So, starting in September, I will be resurrecting TPD at my new site – http://www.pennydreadfulpress.com. Nothing there yet, but I have scheduled time over the next month to gather up content and roll it out. Watch this space for announcements – and if you write a serial, don’t be surprised if I come knocking at your door, wanting to learn more about that wonderful thing you do :)

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