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Flash Fiction – Borrowed Time December 31, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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7 comments

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

This episode picks up where the story left off two weeks ago in Judge and Jury.


They saw the first ghost about a mile from the mansion.

None of the guards said a word – they were all ice elementals, and showing strong emotion was not in their nature. But Nox could see the collective jump in tension in their auras. Her father guided the ice drake they rode upon closer to the river bank, and Grimm jumped off to investigate.

The hound ran to catch up with the ghost as it floated purposefully along the road.  After a hurried conversation, he trotted back to the riverside.  “It is one of the graveyard ghosts. The entire cemetery has been emptied and set on patrol.  The castle’s defenses were put on full alert several hours ago. I will not be able to get into the mansion without you or Nox opening the way, Lucien.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Loki asked.

“It means there is no one left standing to guard the perimeter,” Lucien said. He placed a hand on one of the ice drake’s horns.  “More speed, Rakastar.”

The drake surged forward, leaving a frothy wake in the water as it passed.  The guards hunkered down, hanging on more tightly to its ridge spines.  Grimm stayed on the ground, keeping pace with them as they sped toward the mansion.

The last mile seemed to take forever, like a slow-motion nightmare.  The river was in full spate, nearly touching the bottom of the bridge that formed the base of the mansion.  The icy water rushed through grooves carved in the stone arches, powering elemental castings that sealed the mansion from entry, as well as fueling its many other defenses.  Rakastar clawed his way up the bank and lowered his head for them to climb off.

Lucien did not wait for the rest of them to disembark; he jumped to the ground and strode up to the gates, and right on through the shimmering veil that surrounded the building.  “SERENNA!”  An arctic wind blew the doors inward, and he disappeared inside.

Nox yelled out to Grimm, “Stay with him!”  He nodded, keeping close on Lucien’s heels. The hounds’ deep, rumbling voice echoed in her mind.

“I do not see any movement.  Everything is covered in frost.  Hold on,” he said. “There is a guard. He is…alive?  Not dead, at any rate, and the smell of Serenna’s spells are everywhere. It is hard to pick up any scents through them.”

“Can you show me what you are seeing?” Nox asked.

“Yes.  I think I had better. Brace yourself.”

Nox blinked to adjust to the strange double-vision that came from sharing their senses through the soul-bond.  Grimm was trotting to keep up with Lucien.  She recognized the banquet hall – it was filled with more frost covered bodies. Goblets hung from stiff fingertips, stilled in the midst of a toast.

“Grimm, take a look at those drinks,” she said.

“Citrus.  Something pulpy… with seeds. Oh, Hel. How did they get firethorn past all the wards she put up to detect tampering with the food?” He flung his head up in alarm. “Lucien, wait!”

Nox had to grab Loki’s hand to steady herself as Grimm raced through the halls.  Corridors and stairs blurred past, until he slowed to a halt outside her mother’s study.  Lucien leaned against the doorway, clearly in shock.  In the room beyond, her mother lay stretched out on a divan, her stomach distended and tendrils of firethorn curling out of her mouth.  One of her arms trailed over the side, a pen and paper lying on the floor nearby. 

Lucien pushed himself off the door and knelt beside her.  He picked up the paper, and thrust it behind him. “Give this to Nox.”

Nox lost sight of the papers as Grimm took them in his teeth.  “She is alive, Lucien,” he said. “There is still hope.”

He took his wife’s hand, not looking back.  “Go, damn you.”

Grimm turned and ran, dropping the link to Nox halfway through. She rubbed her eyes and blinked to get them back into focus.  The hound paced out of the gatehouse, and dropped the papers into her hands.

“Lucien is holding the castings from within.  He has placed you in charge, little one.”

Nox was stunned. It was the first time she had ever, in her entire life, heard Grimm tell a lie.  Everyone gathered around, looking to her for direction.   She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.  “Okay.  We set up camp in the graveyard. It’s close enough to keep an eye on things, without putting anyone else at risk.”  She pointed to the medics. “Do a survey of the casualties, and prioritize them by the ones most in need of treatment.”

Jens, the chief medical officer stepped forward. “They are alive then?”

“Yes,” she said, and there was a sigh of relief around her. She held up a warning hand. “Do not move them, until I tell you it is safe to do so. My mother’s spell will hold them as they are, but any new damage will not be suspended.  Father is in her study.  Do not disturb him; he is focused on bolstering her work.  Bring any news to myself or Loki.”

“Yes milady.”  Jens gave her a sharp salute and hurried inside as soon as she parted the veil for him.

Nox pulled Loki and Grimm aside. “Grimm, can you get me a few of the seeds?”

“Do your mother’s instructions call for them?”

Nox showed them the papers, and pitched her voice low so that the guards could not hear.  “I can’t read them. She always falls back on her native tongue when she’s stressed, and I only know a few words. We’ll have to do this my way.”

“Technomancy?” Loki said. “You spend months testing new projects, luv.  How long will Serenna’s spell last?”

Nox gave him a bleak look. “A day, give or take a few hours. So I guess I had better get to work.”


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Flash Fiction – A Solstice Gift December 24, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Today’s episode is the annual holiday special – this one is set 20 years before the current story, and introduces Loki’s father.  Happy Holidays!


Kyrios stood out like a sore thumb in the cool, marble halls of the House of Ice. The Lord of the House of Fire was not a huge man, but he had booming laugh and personality so big he seemed to fill up any room he was in.  Add to that the wavy, reddish hair worn long in the fashion of the time, and a thick curling beard that came down to a point below his chin, and there was no way to miss him in a room where white hair and clean-shaven faces were the norm.

 

Lucien sat down next to Serenna in a window seat.  They had set their annual Wintertide party in the solarium out of deference to their friend, as it was the warmest room in the mansion.  Kyrios sat in a wing-backed chair, making faces at the baby in his lap.

“This one can’t be yours, Luc.  She smiles too much! You never smile like that,” he said, blowing a raspberry that made the baby giggle.

Lucien set down the drinks he had brought for them. “I am Ice. My face would crack.”

Kyrios laughed and winked at Serenna.  “It’s true. He keeps a bottle of glue in his pocket at all times, just in case.”

She smiled indulgently at their old friend.  “I am surprised that Eva let you come, what with her expecting again.”

“She all but threw me out! She told me, quite tartly mind you, that she has done this before and my hovering was driving her mad,” he said, with an amused snort. “Eva is the sweetest woman in the world, except when she’s pregnant.  I figured that out after the first time, it’s best to say yes dear, and stay out of her way.”

Serenna frowned at him. “Eva is never anything but sweet.  I was never like that either; you men are just too sensitive.”

Lucien murmured, “Yes dear,” and Kyrios roared with laughter.

Serenna scowled at her husband, and he got up out of his seat. “I had better check on the supply of wine,” he said, making Kyrios laugh even harder.  She grabbed her husbands’ hand and pulled him back to his seat, joining in the laughter.

“All right you two jokers.  You are making Nox laugh so hard she is getting the hiccups.”

Kyrios patted the baby on the back.  “You are a champion straight-man Luc.  We should toss the whole Lord thing and go on tour as a comedy act.”

“If you can convince our wives, I will go saddle the horses.”

Serenna twined her fingers in her husbands’ hand to keep him from going anywhere. “Do you know if the baby is a boy or a girl yet?”

“A boy, if you ask Cole. I think if he could will a baby brother into existence, he would do it.”  He bent down to tickle the baby with his beard.  “I wouldn’t mind a little girl though.  I know Eva wants one.”  He looked up at Serenna, mischief in his eyes. “You need to corner Luc a little more often if you’re going to keep up with us.”

“Ky!  You are terrible!” she said, taking a sip of her drink to cover her discomfiture.

Lucien gave his wife a slight smile. “Maybe in a few years.”

“Hmm, that’s what Eva said after the first one. Give me a few years to recover my girlish figure before you go ruining it again,” he said, with a roguish smile.

A rise in the conversation at the far end of the room caught Lucien’s attention. “More guests. If you will excuse me?”

Serenna got up too. “I had better get the baby’s bottle. Do you mind holding her for a minute, Ky?”

“Not at all. I need to get back in practice for when mine arrives.”  The baby had latched onto his beard, and was trying to pull herself upright.  “Oof, you might swing a sword like your daddy yet!”

“Not if I can help it. She will be a little lady.”

“And a lovely one too, Serenna. Go on, before she eats my nose. Although, it’s so crooked from all those bar fights, I doubt anyone would notice.”

Once Serenna was gone, he gave the baby a conspiratorial smile.  “I have a gift for you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone.” She gurgled and bounced in his lap. “It’s a deal then.  Gifts like this are usually given on the day you are born, but I think we can bend the rules a bit to give you a belated solstice gift, hmm?”  He brushed a hand over her downy soft hair.  “I give you a warm heart, so that you never lose that big smile.  It would be all too easy to do, surrounded by all this ice. Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I love your father like a brother, but he can be a bit of a hard case. I’ll need all the help I can get to remind him to unbend every so often.”

Points of light, like a field of stars lit in the depths of her dark blue eyes, and faded again. “Merry Solstice, little Nox.”  He chuckled and rescued his beard from her grasp. “Oopsy daisy, here’s your mom.  I had better give you back before we get into any more trouble together.  Remember though, no telling,” he joked, and the baby gave him a big, happy smile.


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Flash Fiction – Judge and Jury December 18, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.


Nox stood by the block of ice that still held Mikael imprisoned. The mistborn huddled miserably in one corner, his bloodied hands tucked under his armpits to try and keep them warm. She gave him an encouraging look. “My father will be here any minute, Mika,” she said. “Tell him the truth, and you have nothing to worry about.”

 

Mikael gave her a jerky nod, but did not reply.  His eyes were focused on the man riding up to them.  The Lord of Ice had come straight off the battle field, pale as death and spattered with gore.  Grimm paced beside him, the huge, ghostly hound looking no less forbidding than his former master.  Lucien’s personal guards marched ahead of them, forming a loose circle around the accused.

He swung down off his horse, with his sword still unsheathed, and pointed it at the remains of the assassins. “Explain.”

Mikael lurched unsteadily to his feet.  “I swear, I didn’t know.  I would never do anything to hurt Nox. We hired on extra guards,” he said, but was cut off as the Marche Warden bulled his way through the ring of ice elementals. The pair of advisors that came with him were grabbed and subdued, leaving him standing alone next to his son’s prison.

“You will tell him nothing,” he said to Mikael. “Not while we are held against our will.  The Convocation will hear of this, Lucien!”

“Your men used firethorn,” Lucien said. “I am sure the Convocation will be interested to see how you seal alliances.”

The Marche Warden stiffened.  “The alliance was made in good faith.”

Grimm advanced on him, growling loud enough to rattle the ground.  “He tells half-truths, Lucien. Shall I make him talk?”

Mikael yelled, “Wait!  Wait, don’t hurt him! We hired on extra guards a few months back, mercenaries, but they were Mistborn. We thought we could trust our own people!”

The Marche Warden pointed a finger at him, his face twisted with fury.  “Not another word, boy!  You shut your mouth!”

Nox gave Mikael a pleading look. “Please, talk to us! We can’t help you if you won’t help yourself!”

Mikael looked from her to his father, and hung his head. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

The Warden drew himself up and put on a stern countenance.  “By law, you cannot judge me on your own Lucien.  I demand a full trial by my peers!”

“So be it. There are enough of our peers at the mansion. If they live, you will have your trial. If not,” he said, “you will share their fate. An eye for an eye, Warden. Do you agree to the terms?”

The Warden swallowed convulsively. “You can’t do that.” He turned to his advisors. “You can’t allow him to do this!”

The older of the two glared back at him. “My wife came on this trip with me. If she’s dead, I’ll cram the thorns down your throat myself.”

A sharp rap from the pommel of Lucien’s sword turned the ice around Mikael into a shower of powdery snow.  “Take them into custody,” he said, and the guards bound all four Mistborn securely. “Bring the bodies of the assassins as evidence.  Brand, pick twenty of the House guard and two medics to come with us.  We ride on ahead of the army.”

The guard captain pounded a fist to his chest. “Right away, my lord!”

Nox noted that Brand only picked men who did not have families at the mansion.  A wise, but heart-rending choice as the men left behind were clearly upset about their loved ones’ safety.  She caught her father’s eye. “I’ll summon Rakastar. We’ll get home faster by the river.”

He simply nodded, and finished giving orders for cleanup of the battlefield.

Nox felt a warm hand on her shoulder, and Loki leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Can you read the Warden’s aura?”

She frowned and made the slight mental shift that let her see the energy fields that radiated around every person.  “He’s afraid. Calculating though, so he’s not too scared to think,” she whispered back. “I’ve seen the same thing around the guards when they gamble in the barracks, and make a bet they can’t cover if they lose.”

“Damn. I was hoping I was wrong,” Loki said. “He’s looking for protection.  First he hires mercenaries, then he tosses his neutral status aside for an alliance with your House. Now he keeps shooting looks at those advisors of his.”

“I wonder what he expects them to do for him? The one already turned on him.”

“But not the other. He may be the reason the Warden clammed up.”

“We have to do something. I can’t sit here and let Mika take the fall for his father’s stupidity.”

Loki gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Patience, luv.  We don’t want to tip our hand until we know what hold that man has over the Warden.”

She scowled at him. “Now I know the world is ending. A fire elemental counseling patience.”

He chuckled and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You have been a good influence on me.”

A few minutes later they gathered with the guards at the riverside where Rakastar waited. The ice drake let out another of his tea-kettle purrs as Nox climbed up between his curving horns. Grimm, Loki and her father soon joined her there.  She checked to make sure everyone else was hanging on to the drake’s ridge-spines securely, and reached down to place a hand on his scaly head.  “Take us home, Rakastar.”

The drake surged through the water, barely noticing all the extra weight from his passengers.  She stood up and slipped her hand into her fathers, offering what little comfort she could.  There was nothing else she could do, except to hope that what waited for them at the mansion did not spell disaster for both the House of Mists, and Ice.


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Flash Fiction – The Killing Seed December 10, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.


Nox looked out through the thick walls of ice that surrounded her, trying to project more confidence than she felt. “Look, I know my idea is risky, but we have to do something about the firethorns. Loki and I can’t stay in here forever. If you let me out, I ought to be just warm enough to germinate any seeds in the area without having them grow too fast to dodge the vines. You won’t be able to find them all otherwise, the thorns are too small. My aura shield should be enough to keep me from inhaling any of them.”

 

Grimm looked appalled.  “Should be enough? Do you have a death wish, little one?”

Even though he was transformed into solid ice, Nox could read the disapproval on her father’s face.  “What if you are wrong, daughter?  If you do not care for your own life, what happens when Grimmalkyn loses his anchor to this realm?  Do you think I can afford to lose more men, fighting the malevolent souls that lie waiting inside of him? Was the fight at the House of Winds not enough to teach you caution?”

“We can’t just stand here and do nothing!” she said.

“She is right,” Loki said. He smiled faintly at the stunned silence that followed his words.  “You cannot take the chance and allow them to spread. The seeds are tough to eliminate while still in their thorny shells, and will remain dormant in the cold.  But they are vulnerable when they first sprout. A shot of heat, followed by extreme cold will destroy them.”  Another faint smile crossed his face. “I studied them in depth after… the last time.”

Nox squared her shoulders and put up her aura shield. “Okay then, let’s do this.”

Loki looked into Nox’s eyes. “No, you won’t be the one going out there, luv.”

Nox started to protest, until she saw the ink from the dragon tattoo pooling in his hand. “Ohhh, good call!  If you keep the exit hole small, I can seal it behind you.”

“Wait for my signal,” said Lucien. He ordered his men to clear the horses, and anyone that could not hold a full ice manifestation out of the area.  Grimm checked everyone as they left, making sure no thorns had stuck to them.

Loki held out his hand, flames dancing around his fingers, and had the other around Nox’s waist.  “I’ll need you to hold me up for a bit when I get back,” he said.  “Ready Lucien?”

Lucien had already gathered so much energy around him that he glowed white.  Loki flicked his hand, and then stood motionless as the dragon tattoo shot out and burned a cylinder through the ice. Nox slapped a plug of ice in place to keep them sealed, and left her hand there to make sure it did not melt from the residual heat.

The ink dragon expanded, roaring up into the sky before swooping back down and letting loose a volcanic blast of heat.  Firethorns popped open and sent up pallid, fleshy tendrils covered in long, hollow spines. Nox shuddered to think of what those would do inside of someone, and was suddenly glad they had talked her out of tempting fate.  Lucien followed up with a cold so intense it even made Nox ache, and the dragon bellowed in pain as it kited back upwards.

She shouted to Grimm over the noise.  “Are we clear?”

The hound sniffed the air, and shook his head in the negative.

The dragon came around for another pass, and Lucien buried the ground in a foot of ice.  Again, Grimm shook his head and started sniffing around to find the unopened seeds.

Nox heard a frantic pounding behind her.  Mika was beating his hands bloody on the walls of his own icy prison, and pointing at her.  Grimm howled something to Lucien, who pushed his way through the wall of ice without breaking it.

“Do not move,little one” Grimm said.  “Get as cold as you can!”

Her throat closed in horror as she felt something moving on her back.  A seed had been caught in her armor, and opened slowly from her and Loki’s combined body heat.  The air temperature dropped to sub-artic as her father made his way through, and he quickly flash-froze the tendrils just before they got to Loki’s hand.  More had started working their way under her chainmail, and he had to carefully pull them out one by one to avoid having any pieces left on her.

Grimm spent a long time sniffing around them before finally giving the nod that they were in the clear.

The ink dragon darted back down and slammed into Loki’s body. His eyes rolled back, and Nox had to struggle to keep them both upright. Her own knees had gone weak from the close call.

Lucien put a shoulder under Loki’s other arm to help them stand.  “Your father used to hold the dragon out from his body, and let it settle in more slowly. He said it was less disorienting that way.”

Loki let out a weak laugh between chattering teeth. “Nnnnow you tttell me.”

A sharp bark from Grimm broke a hole in the ice, letting them guide the shivering fire elemental outside. “Set him down over here, Lucien, and I’ll help you clear out the Chimaera while he recovers.”

Lucien nodded, already calling for his horse and snapping out orders to his guards.

Nox put a hand on his arm. “I can send paper messenger birds back home. At least they’ll have some warning.”

“If there is anyone still there to receive them,” Lucien said, his eyes bleak. “Are you ready, Grimmalkyn?”

“Always.”

Lucien swung up into the saddle, and rode over to the ice block that held Mika. “When I return, I will have questions for you and your father. For your sake, I hope you have very good answers.”


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Flash Fiction – Firethorn December 3, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.


Lucien sat astride a tall warhorse, directing his troops from its back so that he would have a clear view of the battlefield.  His personal guards and a group of messengers, also mounted, waited to carry his orders to the commanders on the line.  The area around him was always an island of calm amidst of the chaos of battle, and today was no different  – until his daughter arrived. An incongruous burst of laughter came from somewhere behind him, and he turned slightly in his saddle as the small group rode up to meet him.

Kel and the troops Lucien had sent to fetch Nox were in the rear of the column.  Grimmalkyn paced in the lead, and Nox rode double with Loki.

She gave a cheerful wave. “You should have seen it father!  Grimm made a whole wall of funnel spouts, and each one was scribing more castings on the ground to power bigger twisters, and all of it was powered by the enemy’s own storm!” she said, talking in her usual breathless manner.  “I didn’t know you could do a controlled cascade of warcastings! Think of what you could do with frost.  All those ice crystals interconnecting in patterns…”

Lucien pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed inwardly. The scary part was that her idea would work.  The only question was how big of a crater it would leave when the energy turned in on itself.  “We will discuss it later, once we are off the battlefield.”

A messenger galloped up to them.  “Sir, the Chimaera are making a straight line for us here. It’s like they’ve gone berserk!”

Nox laughed. “Hah! I told you Grimm and I would make good bait.”

Lucien nodded, a slight frown on his face. “Indeed.  I will need you both to remain here, to draw them fully into the trap.  Kel, take command of the right flank. Brand already holds the left.  And Loki,” he said, giving the young fire elemental a stern look. “No more showing off for my daughter.”    All he got was an unrepentant grin in reply.  Lucien bit back another sigh, wondering when exactly he had lost control of everything involving his little girl.  Probably the day she was born.

At least the battle could be controlled.  He focused on the river –The heat from Loki’s earlier warcasting had softened the ice pack, turning it into slush.  Hoards of Chimaera were already slogging through it, sinking in as they struggled to get across to their prey.

Lucien raised his hands, palm outward.  Pale scars criss-crossed them, from all the times he had drawn blood to summon Grimmalkyn.  But in the center were silver marks, made by a cold so deep it could sear the skin of an ice elemental. It was his connection to the great weather scope, the Key to Ice.  Skill and will combined to send arctic winds screaming across the river, freezing the slush and trapping the Chimaera where they stood.  Orders were called out down the lines, and a hail of arrows rained down on the enemy. Lucien motioned for a messenger, and sent an order to get Kel moving.  The boy was an able commander, but too conservative.  They had to push the advantage.

From behind him, he could hear Loki’s voice raised with a dangerous edge to it.

“I remember Nox ordering you to stay with the observers.”

Mikael, the Marche Warden’s son answered.  “My father wanted to offer our services.  The mix of fire and ice is starting to fog things up.  He says the Mistborn would like to honor the upcoming marriage… alliance… um…” There was an audible gulp. “Please don’t kill the messenger.”

Nox cut in, “You and I are not getting married, and Grimm can handle the fog.”

Lucien turned to order the whole noisy pack of them off the field, when Grimmalkyn’s panicked thought cut through his mind.

“LUCIEN!  FIRETHORN!”

One of Mikael’s guards flung a handful of black seeds at Loki and Nox.  Grimmalkyn howled and a gust of wind knocked all the guards flat, and the seeds back into their faces.  Lucien encased Loki and Nox in a hollow cube of ice, and Mikael in a separate block. He yelled an order to his own guards, and he and all of his men transformed, looking like sculptures carved from ice.

The mistborn guards writhed in agony as the firethorns dug in. Heat caused the seeds to open and send burrowing tendrils into any organic matter they found to feed on.  The mistborn must have inhaled some of the seeds.  It was a horrible way to die, and Lucien could see the blood drain from Loki’s face as he recognized the symptoms.  This was how the Morning Lord had murdered the boy’s family.

Even while snapping out orders to his guards, Lucien kept an eye on the two young men trapped in the ice on either side of Nox.  He had been putting off the decision of which suitor would get his blessing, but the task had just gotten easier.  Loki had turned to shield Nox with his own body, despite knowing what the thorns could do to him. Mikael had stood there gaping like a landed fish.

This time, he would be a father first, rather than let politics guide his decision. Serenna would argue, but…

He locked eyes with Mikael.  “Did all of your retinue come with you?”

Mikael was so startled he jumped back and bounced off the wall of ice behind him.  “Um, no, sir,” he stammered. “The rest are still at your mansion. Lady Serenna insisted that the guests stay for the night.”

His wife would have no warning.  At least half of their guests were vulnerable to the thorns as well.  The battle was not over, and they were hours from home, even at a full gallop.

Nox banged on the wall of the cube to get his attention.  “Father, I can help!  Let me out!”

(to be continued)


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