A Game of Chess – Checkmate (2 of 2) April 28, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm
It is here! The final segment of the Nox and Grimm episode 100 short story! Woooo! *happydancehappydance*
Holy shamoly – I had no idea when I started writing this that it would go on for so long. But I couldn’t stop writing – I had to finish it, and it had to be done right. So here it is, all 9000 words of it, spread over 3 posts (it was too long, had to break it up.) It’s all here though, just follow the big CONTINUE link at the bottom of each one. I hope you enjoy it, and here’s to shooting for another 100 episodes! Woohoo!
Nox rode north and west, clinging to the back of a horse Loki had left stabled at the House of Ice. She remembered too late that it was aptly named Sybarite, and she wasted precious minutes coaxing it out of its comfortable stable and yet more after that trying to get him to run. As they clattered across a stone bridge, it tossed its head and nearly yanked the reins from her hands. She gathered them up and wrapped them around one hand, snapping them to get him moving again. “C’mon, you cantankerous brute, run! I have got to get this over with before Grimm realizes I’ve gone.”
It was only then that she remembered the trick to getting him moving, and reached forward to activate the enchantments carved into small stones embedded in his tack. Sybarite tossed his head again, snorted, and finally broke into a gallop.
Nox was not sure that going out on this mission alone was the brightest idea, but it was the right one. She could still see the look on Grimm’s face as he picked up his parent’s portrait, and hear the heartbreak in his voice when he spoke of Katya. It was obvious he had once loved her. To ask him to destroy her, despite all that she had done to him would just be too cruel. And besides, wasn’t she the most skilled person in the north when it came to wrangling spirits, next to her parents?
Of course, her father wasn’t too sure he could manage it, and her mother had already lost out to the Shadowkin. Nox stopped that line of thought as anxiety set in. “Crud, this is no time for second thoughts. Buck up, girl, you took out hundreds of Shadowkin earlier today. What’s one more?”
She checked the charm she had wrapped around one arm, and it tugged to the left. It was made of long strands of blond hair she had taken from her mother’s brush, braided together with a scrap of leather into a bracelet. She turned the horse at a fork in the road onto a trail that led through a lovely, flower clad valley.
Nox had only been on this path once before. It led to her mother’s small mountain retreat, where she would go every year to meditate and soak in the hot springs. Serenna had forbidden her to go there, so of course Nox had gone to check it out as soon as she was old enough to be out for an afternoon without causing alarm, Nox was more comfortable with heat than the average Winter kin, being half-human, but even so the waters had proved too hot for her to go for a swim. The only other thing she had found there was a small, flower bedecked shrine with three candles on it that never burned down. There were no markings anywhere to say what it was for, and since she could not ask her mother she had soon lost interest in it.
Nox slowed her horse to a walk as they closed in on the winding stairs that led up to the retreat. Her mother’s honey colored palfrey was standing off to one side, cropping at the long green grass that covered the clearing. Nox left Sybarite tethered nearby and quietly crept up the stairs, careful not to make any sound.
The building was just as she remembered it – a large wooden structure surrounded by trees, with a sloping roof and delicate, painted screens for walls. Wisps of steam floated out and left the stone floors slick with moisture. Nox was about to go inside but the charm on her wrist tugged to the left again. She slipped around the side of the building and followed the leaf-strewn path that led to the shrine.
Her mother was there, kneeling before it and chanting low beneath her breath. Nox stopped, half-hidden behind a tree and made the slight mental shift that allowed her to see auras and other energy fields. Serenna was surrounded in a sheen of emerald green light that slowly bled off and flowed into a chalk circle drawn on the flagstones underneath her.
Serenna left off her chant, and Nox shuddered as her mother’s blank, soul-less stare seemed to cut right through her.
“I knew you would come, daughter,” Serenna said. “There is no need to hide, the Shadowkin is not here.”
“Even so, I think I’ll stay right where I am,” Nox said, keeping well away from the lines of green energy. “You are not well, mother. The Shadowkin has gotten hold of you.”
“You could just as easily say that I have her,” Serenna replied, calmly smoothing her skirts.
Nox shook her head vehemently. “It doesn’t work like that. Once they get their hooks into you, they can make you see anything they want. You are not in control here, mother. Please, let me help you. I know how to get rid of it.”
A mocking smile crossed her mother’s face. “As do I child. I taught you the ways of controlling spirits, remember?”
“Then why haven’t you?” Nox said. “It broke father’s heart when he found out what you’d done.”
That got a reaction. Anger flickered in Serenna’s eyes, and she swept up to her feet. “Your father is all but one of them. He has no right to judge me.” She jabbed a finger toward the shrine, her face twisted in rage. “Do you want to know what this is? Your brothers lie here, all three dead before their lives had even begun. He could have saved them. We could have worked together, but no, he was too afraid to use the knowledge the Shadowkin offered. When the day came that he finally found his spine, he still went behind my back and changed me without my permission. And there you were, the result of his cowardice. A pitiful thing caught between two worlds.” Her voice dropped, soothing as if talking to a child. “But do not worry, my dear. In the hands of a healer, the knowledge of the Shadowkin can do great things. Your life is about to change in ways you could never imagine.”
The shadows beneath the trees deepened and began to move. Even without that warning Nox would have known that the Shadowkin was coming. She had been soul-bound to Grimm for too long not to sense its presence. She backed away slowly, keeping an eye on her mother while scanning the woods for the enemy. A whisper of power brought up her aura shield, and the whole area was lit with its crackling, electric blue light. “Mother, it’s not too late. Work with me and we can send that creature to Hel where she belongs.”
Cruel laughter rolled out from the forest. “Oh, do you think so, little half-blood?”
All expression drained from Serenna’s face and her shoulders slumped. A dark shadow with leaf-green eyes loomed over her, digging its fingers into her shoulders. “You see, my puppet here won’t make a move without me pulling her strings. Kneel,” it ordered, and Serenna dropped to her knees and picked up the chant where she had left off.
The figure slowly took shape, the shadows becoming a beautiful young forest kin with auburn hair. She moved toward Nox like a predator stalking its prey. “So, you are the one who stole my Grey’s heart from me?” she said, a snarl marring her pretty features.
“If you mean Grimm, I don’t need his name to free him from nasty piece of work like you,” Nox said, with a scornful look. “The only name I need is yours. Katya.”
As she spoke the name, energy flashed out and surrounded them both, taking on the shape of a figure eight. Nox stood in the smaller half, dragging in energy and sending it hurtling around to the larger side that encircled Katya.
The Shadowkin gave it an appraising look. “Not bad, half-blood. But not good enough.” She took another step forward, pressing against the bonds of the circle.
“I’m not done yet,” Nox said, hanging casting marks in the air around her. She drew in more energy and her voice rang out clear as a bell. “Katya, I summon thee. By thy name, I bind thee to my will.”
“And by your will, my soul is yours to command,” Katya said, her laughter sending a chill down Nox’s spine. “Definitely not good enough.” She raked her nails across the casting and shattered it into a million shards of blue light.
Nox cried out as the energy backlashed into her. It lifted her up and smashed her into a tree, leaving her in a stunned heap at its roots. “You lied,” she gasped. “You never told Grimm your real name. He loved you, and you lied to him!”
“Love is weapon for the strong to use,” Katya said. She reached down and grabbed a handful of Nox’s hair, yanking her to her feet. “You are as naïve as he was. We are going to have so much fun, you and I. The only question is which limb to tear off first.”
A weak blast of sorcerous energy hit Katya from behind, causing her to stumble. Serenna swayed to her feet, her eyes wide with fear. “My baby. Don’t hurt my baby!”
Katya turned around slowly, a sharks’s smile on her face. “Of course not, poppet. I wouldn’t want you to waste all the effort you put into your cleansing spell.” She dragged Nox across the ground and threw her into the spell circle.
Nox tried to break her fall but her limbs were still prickling from the backlash and didn’t seem to want to work right. She rolled and landed on her back, sprawled across the length of the circle. Manacles made of acid green light snapped around her hands and feet, and another clamped itself around her neck. Chains ran outward from each one, anchored at five points around the circle. A strange lassitude washed over her, draining the strength from her limbs and blurring her vision. It was all she could do to turn her head to the side so that she could see.
Katya stood next to her mother, whispering in her ear. Serenna nodded slowly as if she were half asleep, and her eyes started to glaze over again. Katya was so busy trying to subdue her ‘puppet’ that she never noticed the portal opening up behind her. The Morning Lord rode through at a gallop and barely missed riding over Katya.
He reined in his horse so sharply it reared up and nearly sat back on its hind legs. Balor was off its back before its front hooves even hit the ground. “Dammit woman, quit playing with your toy and answer me when I call you!”
Katya hissed and bared her teeth. “What you doing here? I gave you one simple task; do not tell me you have failed!”
Balor threw the charred remains of a charm bracelet at her feet. “Your pet’s spell didn’t work. He never even noticed it was cast on him!”
Serenna looked blearily up at Katya. “I told you, dragon fire negates sorcery,” she said, her words slurring.
Balor drew his arm back to slap Serenna, but Katya stopped him. “I still need her, you dolt. Where is the young Lord Dragon now?”
Balor jerked his thumb back toward the mountains behind them. “He will be here soon enough. You wanted the dragon mark, don’t deny it. Well, now you are going to get it.”
Nox lay still while she listened, but her heart was racing. Loki was alive! She could still feel the gentle warmth from the piece of glass she wore around her neck, and it gave her an idea. Air fans Fire, and Fire negates sorcery. She tucked her chin and blew downwards, sending a light draft of Air over the glass. The flames trapped within flared up, and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out as it blistered her skin. A tiny bit of strength flowed back into her as the enchantments on the chains started to fray, and she made herself blow on it again.
Serenna’s head snapped up. She moved to the edge of the circle and started weaving her hands in elaborate patterns. “No more elements. My baby will only be safe when she is fully human.” The circle repaired itself and Nox arched up off the ground, screaming as the spell began to work. Serenna made a shushing sound. “Hush baby, I know it hurts. But you have to trust me. Mommy knows best.”
With her puppet taken care of, Katya turned to deal with her fuming pawn. Balor was busy snapping orders at the New Dawn troops pouring through the portal behind him, setting up a defensive perimeter. She studied him, deciding how best to use such a flawed tool. He was not yet as addicted to the toxins in her skin as Grimmalkyn had been – Fire was notoriously hard to drug – but he could still be influenced. “Come now, let us not quarrel,” she said, and ran her hand playfully along his neck. “We must all work together if we are to reap the rewards of our labors.”
Balor stiffened as her touch let the toxins seep straight into his brainstem. “What are you up to now,” he said, but did not move away.
Katya leaned in so close that her lips brushed his ear. ‘“I have an idea for your new recruits. Why waste them on a diversion for your nephew, when you can use them to destroy him?”
Balor gave her a wary look. “What did you have in mind?”
She smiled, knowing she had him hooked despite his misgivings. “The Shadowkin knew ways to unleash the untapped power within their tools, enough to match that of the young Dragon. Not a pleasant method, if you don’t have the stomach for a bit of bloodshed, but very effective.”
“As long as it is their blood being shed, I care not,” he said, giving her his full attention. “Tell me what must be done.”
Katya whispered her plan, and Balor let out an ugly laugh. “That is it? That is all it takes?” he said, and signaled his retinue to gather around him. “Come, my brethren! It is time to reclaim what is rightfully mine!” He strode to the portal with a host of New Dawn priests in his wake.
Katya laughed and clapped her hands as she watched him go. This game was proving to be even more fun than she had imagined. With a last look to make sure Serenna was still behaving, she disappeared into the woods to prepare a few surprises for when the Ice Lord arrived.