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Penny Dreadful Press – It Lives! September 16, 2014

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Woohoo!  After a lot of detours, I am finally getting my new site up and running!  Stop by http://www.pennydreadfulpress.com to see where you can find e-books with my stories!   The soapbox will still be here for a while, but I’ll be slowly moving things over to the new site.  Here’s to the start of great new things!



Guest Post – R. J. Blain – Inquisitor Book Launch May 17, 2014

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Inquisitor - RJ BlainI’ve decided to start doing regular shout-outs for indy/self-pub authors. Why? Because they’re cool and groovy people, and I adore their writing! I’m definitely looking forward to sharing more of their work. 🙂

This week R. J. Blain is celebrating both her birthday, and the launch of her urban fantasy novel, Inquisitor.  Here’s a quick peek at the story:

When Allison is asked to play Cinderella-turned-Fiancee at a Halloween ball, the last thing she expected was to be accused of murder on the same night. She has to find the killer and quick, or she’ll be put to death for the crimes she didn’t commit. To make matters worse, the victims are all werewolves.

On the short list of potential victims, Allison has to act fast, or the killer will have one more body to add to his little black book of corpses.

There’s only one problem: One of the deaths has struck too close to home, and Allison’s desire for self-preservation may very well transform into a quest for vengeance…


R. J., like so many of my writer friends is addicted to moleskine’s and pens.  And telling bad puns.

When she isn’t playing pretend, she likes to think she’s a cartographer and a sumi-e painter. In reality, she herds cats and a husband. She also has a tendency to play MMOs and other computer games.

In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Should that fail, her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until she is satisfied.

If you’d like to own a copy of Inquisitor, you can find it by clicking here.

Nox and Grimm – A Convocation of Elements, Part 3 May 3, 2014

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(Picking up the story where I left off last November… sorry for the long gap, it was a rough winter! And I’m a little rusty, so comments will be very welcome!)


Nox was a daughter of the House of Ice. She was supposed to be calm, steady, immovable in the face of adversity. Giggling like a loon was just not done. She struggled to keep a straight face while Grimm threatened to toss the assembled nobles ‘off his lawn’ if they didn’t behave.

“How am I supposed to follow that?” she whispered.

Loki leaned over and whispered back, “I don’t know luv, but you’d better do something soon. This crowd is starting to get ugly.”

She looked at the faces of the men and women standing around her, gauging the best way to address them. They were angry, obviously. They’d been scolded like children and told that the youngest, and yet-to-be-confirmed representative in the Convocation was to enter the Hall before them.  To say that they were pissed off at her was an understatement.  The fact that every one of them was both physically larger and more powerful than she was should have had her shaking in her boots.

But Nox was a true child of Ice. She’d be damned before she let a crusty old pack of politicians intimidate her. It was time to follow in her father’s footsteps, and take charge.

She put a finger and thumb into her mouth and let out a whistle so piercing that the nobles standing nearest to her all jumped, with several of them landing in a heap on the lower stairs.  “If you want answers, I will give them to you.”  She gave those standing in her way the same cold, measuring look that her father always used, and the crowd reluctantly parted.

When she gained the top stair, she gestured toward the entrance to the Convocation hall. “You need look no further than the Ward stone at the end of this passage. All the sigils of the Houses are there, in the order that they swore fealty to the House of Winds when the Convocation was formed. As you can see, Ice is the next in line.”

This was it. The moment she’d prepared for her whole life, to be confirmed as heir to Ice. Nox fought past the brutal heat of the day and focused on summoning the sliver of pure elemental Ice she would need to activate the Ward stone. For a brief moment she thought she’d failed, but then her palm tingled and a tiny shard formed. With a triumphant cry she flung it down the hall, letting loose the Air casting she’d prepared to speed it on its way.

She had not, however, taken into account that this building was designed by the Wind Lord himself, to enhance the works of his people.

Casting marks that summoned the North Wind lit up along the entire length of the hallway as her Air casting moved past them, glittering cold and white.  Their energy touched the little Ice shard and sparked off a howling gale, coating everything in an inch-deep layer of frost and slamming into the Ward stone with enough force to make the entire building ring like a bell.

Nox covered her mouth with one hand. “Oh dear. That was a little bigger than I expected.”

Loki grimaced, radiating heat to melt the frost from his jacket. “That’s the least of your worries, luv. Take a look at the Ward stone.”

It was only then that Nox noticed that everyone else was staring at it in shock.  Not one, but three sigils were lit on the stone pillar.  One for Ice. One for the Northern Air tribes, and the first mark on the pillar glowed brightest of all – the sigil for Wind Lord Galen’s House, Zephyr.

Grimm’s deep, rumbling voice echoed outwards from the heart of the Convocation Hall.  “All Hail the Lady Zephyr, heir to Ice and Winds.”

This was not in the plan. Loki kept a wary eye on the crowd, waiting to see who would be the first to pick a fight over Grimm’s pronouncement. Not surprisingly, it was Lord Snow. He’d already challenged Nox once that day, and now he looked like he was in the midst of an apoplectic fit.

“Black hair,” he sputtered, jabbing a finger at Nox. “Every damned one of your family has black hair!  You lying bastards, you have no right to rule Ice! You’re Air kin!”

Nox gave him an innocent look. “We have never hidden the fact that we summon the North Wind.”

“That doesn’t matter!”

Loki put a restraining hand on Lord Snow’s arm. “You are forgetting, the sigils for both Air and Ice lit for her.”

Nox nodded, as unruffled as ever. “Galen’s wife, Elenna remarried into the House of Ice when Galen died. Her children were adopted as the heirs, and the Houses of Ice and Winds have been joined as one ever since.  Legally that gives us every right to rule.”

A commotion to their left caught Loki’s eye.  The representative from the House of the Sun moved forward, and the crowd shifted nervously away from him.

Loki ignored Nox’s protest and moved to stand protectively in front of her, the dragon tattoo coiling restlessly on his forearm.

The Sun priest stopped in front of him and raised his voice to make it carry.  “All that has been proved here today is that this…abomination,” he said, pointing at Nox, “is more of a mongrel than we already thought. Do we allow a half-blood freak to enter these hallowed halls?”

Dragonfire coiled around Loki’s fists. “Watch your tongue, lackey, or I’ll remove it.” He turned his burning gaze on the crowd. “I doubt there’s a one of us here, outside of Grimm that has a single element. The Houses have been inter-marrying for years. Anyone want to deny that?”

The priest sneered at him. “My element is pure.”

Loki gave him a disgusted look. “Mutilating yourself to replace your true element with another doesn’t make you pure; it only makes you a fool.”  He leaned in, until he was an inch from the priest’s face. “What will you do when night falls, Sun worshipper?  The fires of earth will still answer my call when your distant star has fallen below the horizon.”

A trickle of nervous sweat rolled down the priest’s brow. “Do not question the power of the all-conquering Sun!”

Loki leaned back, and crossed his arms. “Wrong answer, priest. But while we’re questioning things, I’d like to know why you’re here.  I don’t seem to remember acknowledging your right to break away from Fire, and form a new House.  And since you murdered my father before the House of the Sun was formed, he couldn’t have done it.”

“You would cast us out?” The priest looked oddly triumphant.  “Is that it, boy?  You want to start a civil war? I assure you, we will be glad to give it to you!”

“No. I want justice, for everyone you’ve killed.”  The dragon tattoo flowed down into Loki’s hand to form an obsidian blade, and he held the tip to the priest’s throat.  “Kneel, you bastard.”

The priest let out a harsh laugh, and raised his voice once again to play to the crowd. “War is coming! Think hard on which side you choose, for there will be no middle ground.”  Then he dropped a small coin to the ground, and fell backwards into the portal that it opened beneath him, and was gone…

<–Previous   ~~Go to Beginning~~

Guest Blog by Johanna Harness – Writer Shaming May 2, 2014

Posted by techtigger in Uncategorized.

In honor of the release of Johanna’s book “Spillworthy,”  the Soapbox is proud to share her story –  a very brave, and candid look at the choice to self publish.

writershameComing from a traditional, big-publishing path, I believed agents and editors spent their time making books better. When books were good enough, they’d be published.

I feel somewhat naïve for believing this. In truth, big publishers focus on making books marketable. Better and marketable are not synonymous. If they were, celebrities who make us cringe would not be offered massive book deals. If they were, Firefly would not have been cancelled after season one. Sometimes we don’t get what we want.

I had a good agent. She was doing her job well when I fired her.  Like many relationship break-ups, we just didn’t want the same things anymore.  I hired her to sell my work to a big publisher and she gave me the advice needed to make my work more marketable. I decided to go another direction.

If authors don’t want to change their writing to fit the market, we’re called bad names. After all, a real writer would do it. A writer with enough talent would think nothing of it. If a writer won’t change, she’s either too proud or too arrogant. She shows a lack of respect for everyone ever published by traditional publishers, and risks the possibility her friends inside the industry will quit talking to her.  She’s not willing to play by the rules. She must want publishers to fail, and by association, libraries. She wants to put independent bookstore owners on the street.  And probably she doesn’t care about the coffee shops where they buy their mochas. She’s committing career suicide.  She’s such a loser she has to self-publish.

Writer shaming.

Just change the book.  Sell your rights. Ignore the cover with the black kid set in shadow. It’s not like you had any say in the matter. Don’t make the kids so smart. You’d do it if you were a real writer.  You’d do it if you were hungry.  There are a lot of people who will do it if you won’t.

Yeah.  That’s me. I’m taking my writer shame, boxing it up, and setting it on a shelf.  There’s a door to the side of the room, the one that leads to self-publishing, the one that everyone says not to open. Sometimes it glows white hot with possibility and that’s when we’re told to fear it the most.

I’m tired of fear and shame.  I need to know for myself.

I walk through with the worst expectations.  I accept the future predicted for me and, instead. . .

I find a world good, and sweet, and generous.  I cry when readers write to me and tell me they loved my book.  I cry when I get good reviews. I cry when people tell me they love my cover. I cry when they ask about my next book. I cry when I am loved.

I cry even more when someone says I’ve inspired them, that they’ve come to believe they might also be worthy of love.

Writer shame be damned.

“It’s good?” they ask from the other side of the door.

“Yes.”  My answer is unequivocal. “It’s very good.”

– – –

Johanna Harness lives in Idaho in a life filled with beauty and generosity. The corners of her world are filled with chickens, cats, guinea pigs, sheep, and children.  Her debut, middle-grade novel, Spillworthy, is independently-published. It contains smart kids thinking smart thoughts, homeless people who are not burned out with despair, and caring adults who don’t die in the first chapter.

You can buy her book here: http://www.amazon.com/Spillworthy-Johanna-Harness-ebook/dp/B00JZ6PHKI

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.”

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Nox and Grimm – Knight Wind September 6, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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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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