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Flash Fiction – Smash and Grab November 27, 2009

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,

This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning.

Grimm ducked as Nox threw another thug down the alley.   

“I worked on that dimensional clock for a month.” She snarled.  “A whole MONTH!”  (gaaahhh!  wham!)

The hound was enjoying the show.  It wasn’t often that he got to sit back and let someone else handle the mayhem.  “To your left.”  he said helpfully, his tongue lolling out in a big doggy grin.  A wave of Nox’s hand sent the thug bouncing down the alley after his cohorts.

Energy crackled around her gloves as she picked up a man twice her size by the throat and slammed him against a wall.  “You remind your buddies back at New Dawn that I am Serenna’s daughter.”  She made a twisting motion with her free hand, and every one of their auras ignited, connected by a web of energy.  “I have your auras tagged.  Anywhere you go, I can find you.  Anyone you’ve touched, I can burn out.  Tell the Morning Lord that I am through playing his games.”  She tossed him out of the alley after the other would-be assassins. The lot of them scrambled to their feet and ran away.

Grimm shook his head, whurfs of canine laughter echoing around the alley.  “You know, as  fun as that was to watch, you should probably just hex them back to the stone age and be done with.”

Nox threw an arm around his neck and whispered.  “I can’t.”  She held up her hand. “Take a closer look.” 

He squinted at the glove, and then started to laugh again.  “Circuitry.  You were using magnetic fields to toss them around.”

“Bingo! Only full humans like mother can do real sorcery.  I can manage to link up magnetic fields and ley lines to electronics, but not much else.”

“So the whole thing was a bluff? Remind me never to play poker with you.”

 “Good call! “  She bent down to pick up the remains of the clock.  “I wonder why they went for this first, instead of going for a kill shot?”

Grimm tilted his head to the side.  “I’m sure they know by now how good your aura shield is.  They might have been trying to break your concentration.”

“I don’t’ know, they acted like a bunch of amateurs.  I suppose it could have been a distraction…or was it a delaying tactic?”  She looked up at him, fear shooting through her like lightning. “Loki!  If they think we’re dating, they may try to take him hostage!”

Grimm didn’t waste time answering.  He changed shape from a hound into a massive, dog-faced gargoyle.   Nox dove onto his back and flung a tendril of her aura around his neck to help her hang on.   “Go, go!”

He barreled down the alley and out onto the busy street.  The usual daytime crowd milled about; workers going to lunch, bored young nobles out to spend their inheritance, merchants hawking wares from carts.  Grimm somehow managed to avoid running into anyone, although a few lamp posts got dented for his efforts.   

Nox peered ahead.  The crowd was moving back from a ring of men dressed in drab robes .  Loki stood in their midst, a lazy smile on his face.  “And what if I don’t care to go with you gentlemen?” he said.

Half of the assassins pivoted to face outwards.  “Then everyone on this street dies.” hissed their leader.  

“Oh, well, we can’t have that.”  Loki flicked his hand, and a wall of flames leapt up around the assassins.   “It’s just you and me now, gentleman.”  he said, the smile turning fierce.  A saber made out of flames appeared in one hand, a fiery chain in the other.  

The crowd surged away from the circle of flames in a panic, slowing Grimm down.  “Hang on,” he growled.  A single leap took him over their heads to land with an earth-shaking thud just outside the firewall.   Nox yelled in his ear.  “Shield Loki!”  She rolled off his back and bounded to her feet.  Grimm dug in his claws and dove through the flames, trampling several assassins on his way through.   He set up a howl when he reached Loki’s side, his sonic shield surrounding them both.  Nox muttered under her breath as if casting a spell, flung out her hands and energy surged from her gloves, covering the whole area in a shimmering dome of light.  

Inside the dome the fight raged on.  Loki and Grimm were outnumbered twenty to two.  It wasn’t even close to a fair fight.  The assassins’ blades bounced off of Grimm, and every time someone came within reach his granite claws he made short work of them.  Loki wrecked havoc with each deceptively casual flick of his saber, his chain whipping out to tangle their legs and pull them within range of Grimm’s claws. 

The leader of the assassins snapped out an order and the last men standing fell back.  He threw something at the ground, and a portal opened beneath each of them, alive or dead, dropping them all out of sight.  The portals closed as quickly as they had opened.

“Damn, nothing left here to ID them with, the clever bastards.” Loki said. 

Grimm sniffed at the ground where one of the portals had closed.  “Stay back.  The set spells are fading, but if you step on one you’ll still drop through.”

“Right into their welcoming arms, no doubt.”   Loki said.  He looked around the now empty street.  “Where’s Nox?”

“Holding the energy shield around us.”

“No, she’s not.”  Loki pointed to a pair of gloves lying along the edge of the flickering shield, sparks coming off of them.   The faint outline of a portal hole was right next to them.   

Grimm sniffed at the portal, then growled a curse.  “They’ve got her, but she’s still alive.  I’d know if she wasn’t.” 

Loki gripped his saber and stepped up to the portal next to Grimm. “Age before beauty.” he quipped.  They both dove in at the same time.

(to be continued…)

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Flash Fiction – Three is a Crowd November 20, 2009

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,

This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning.

Nox flopped onto the squashy leather chair by her desk, completely exhausted.  It had taken hours to clean up the blood left from treating Loki’s wounds. The spy didn’t think he had been seen amidst all the chaos during the coup, but blood could be used to track him.  Anything that couldn’t be cleaned had to be destroyed, which meant Nox’s dress had to go.  She had changed into a shabby old pair of sweatpants and a short-sleeved shirt to do the rest of the cleanup.

She wiped the sweat from her brow. “We have got to step up the plans for that bar, Grimm.  We can’t have problems like Loki showing up on our doorstep.” 

The ghost hound sprawled out on the floor beside her.  “Loki is the least of our problems.  If the Morning Lord retains his hold on the House of Storms, he’s going to have a strong power base to work from.  And we’re already on his bad side.”

The chair creaked as she leaned forward, arms resting on her knees.  “Do you think my family will go to war over this? We are allies of the Storm Queen.”

“That depends on whether the Convocation decides to get involved.  They tend to stay out of internal House politics, and the Queen’s guard supports the Morning Lord’s claim to the throne.  Although,” he said, his ears perking up, “since you proved he isn’t above a bit of assassination to get what he wants, they may find it hard to ignore the situation.”

“At least we know why the New Dawn cultists let up on us, they were too busy taking down Queen Rhiana.  How much do you want to bet they never find anything but an abdication letter?”

“No bet.”

They both jumped a little as the doorbell rang.  Nox groaned and pushed herself out of the chair.  “This night won’t end!”

Grimm loomed behind her, his mental voice mixed with a rumbling growl. “Careful, little one.  Check the street before you open the door.”

Nox tapped a few buttons on the security monitors.  The only person on the street was a stocky earth elemental in a cheap suit.  “It’s Roald.  Seems my date won’t take no for an answer.” 

Grimm rolled his eyes.  “I’ll go check on our patient.”

Nox opened the door partway to keep Roald outside. “Um, hi.  Didn’t expect to see you here.”

Roald gave her a million dollar smile and produced a bouquet of flowers.  “Since you’re not feeling well, I thought I’d bring something to cheer you up.  Can I come in?”

Nox faked a cough.  “You’d better not, this cold might be contagious.”

“Nonsense!  I’m an earth elemental, we never catch cold like you winter types,” he said.  “Ha ha, you’re an ice elemental, get it? Cold?  Ha!”  He gave her another brilliant smile, obviously pleased with his lame joke.

Nox started to close the door. “I’m really sorry, maybe some other time?”

She felt a hand brush her hair away from her neck, and Loki stepped up close behind her. “Is there a problem, luv?”  He was stripped to the waist – they had needed to destroy his blood soaked shirt along with her dress, and she didn’t have anything in his size to replace it with.

Nox coughed again.  “Um, Roald, this is Loki. Loki, Roald.”

 “We’ve met.”  Roald gave Loki a look generally reserved for something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.  “Well, I guess I’ll just be going.” He turned to Nox.  “I’d say take care of yourself, but it seems you already have.”

There was a flicker of something dangerous in Loki’s eyes.  “Watch your step, Roald. You don’t want me to give you another lesson in manners.”

The earth elemental spun on his heels and stalked away. Nox waited till he was out of earshot to yell at Loki. “What the hell are you doing? Everyone is going to think we’re an item.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” He leaned against the doorway. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful when you glare?  It’s those blue eyes, they cut right through you.”

“Move, loverboy.”

 “I would, but the door is the only thing keeping me from falling over.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.” She slung his arm over her shoulder and steered him back through workshop.  “I should make you drag yourself back upstairs.”

“You should be thanking me.  Roald’s jokes are considered lethal weapons in at least three territories.”

“Give it up Loki, I’m immune.”

 “You’re as cold as ice. Ice elemental, get it? Ha ha!”  He said, in a perfect imitation of Roald.

Nox looked around the loft. “Where’s Grimm?”

“He said something about going to find me some clothes.”

 “Did he also tell you to stay upstairs?”

“He might have mentioned that.” Loki sagged gratefully back onto the couch. “Ahhh. Ow.  I don’t think that healing spell is working very well.”

“It would if you’d stay put. “ Nox crossed her arms.  “I think it’s time for some ground rules.”

“Don’t be sore, boss lady.  If I’m going to pass information to you we need an excuse to meet socially.  And let’s face it, with my reputation,”

“Which is now my reputation.”

“No one will believe I’m just your lab assistant.”

“Fine.  We ‘date’ until this mess with Queen Rhiana blows over. No groping, and we’re all business in private.” 

Grimm materialized next to the couch and dropped a bundle of clothes.  “I leave for five minutes and you’ve already started groping? What happened to Roald?”

Nox threw her hands up in the air and stormed downstairs. 

Loki sat back and admired her retreating figure.  “For an ice elemental she has quite a temper. Where do you think she gets it from?”

“Have you met her mother?” Grimm said.

That cooled off his ardor a bit.  “Ah. Good point.”

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The Human Touch – Using Body Language in Writing November 18, 2009

Posted by techtigger in Uncategorized.

Did you ever look at your manuscript and realize that your characters have been grinning, frowning and glaring at each other for the past 40 pages? I know I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to using the dreaded ‘ing’ and ‘ly’ in a story. Yeah, sure, the eyes are the key to the soul, and a smile is worth a thousand words but what is the rest of their body doing? We don’t all just walk around grinning at each other all day.

I think the reason so many new writers like myself fall into this trap, is that our reaction to body language is more instinctual than intellectual. Writing is an intellectual exercise, you sit for hours and think about how to string words together. It’s all too easy to forget that the physical body interacts with the world around it.

For example, you can say ‘she whispered seductively in his ear’ and you’ll get the point across. The problem is that your brain thinks only about how the voice sounds, the rest of body is left out. Now, try this: her lips brushed his ear as she whispered, “yes.” Yeowza, fireworks! Your body reacts in a more visceral way to the physical interaction.

This is something I’ve been working on in my writing. Every time I come across an ing, ly, or mere facial expression I try to think of what else their body is doing while they talk. They don’t say something teasingly, they tweak the other person’s nose. They don’t look bored, they check their watch. Take time to pay attention to what you do when you’re feeling sheepish, do you shuffle your feet? Rub the back of your head?

Another thing to remember is that things make sounds when you interact with them. The world is a noisy place. You don’t just lean back in a chair, the chair creaks as you lean back in it. You don’t just walk through snow, it crunches beneath your feet.

And don’t forget textures, describing how something feels can be an important cue for your reader. If your character is studying something carefully, have them run their finger along the slick surface, or recoil from the sharp spines. Just try not to over-use the word ‘like’ when you describe things. I remove that word as much as possible from my stories. If you use like, you’re not engaging the body, you are intellectually describing an object. Again, no visceral reaction. “His pants got soaked, and clung like soggy newspaper.” vs “The damp fabric clung to his legs.” It’s easy to see which gets more of a reaction.

Another trick I like to use is mixing body language with dialogue. This is an example from a flash fiction story I’m in the midst of editing. I started with this:

He grinned at her. “You have the prettiest blue eyes.”

The blue eyes glared back at him.

That’s fun, but I wanted to turn up heat between the characters. Here is the edit:

He leaned against the doorway. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful when you glare? It’s those blue eyes, they cut right through you.”

In two lines we have a description how he interacts with the room, and the playful tone comes through without the grin. You even get a description of how she looks (blue eyes) and what she’s doing (glaring). It’s all done with body language and physical descriptions. Sure, you can use facial expressions from time to time, but don’t let your readers ride passively along through the whole story. Make them feel it. That’s the heart of the whole ‘show don’t tell’ thing. We are creatures of instinct, and body language is the key to putting your readers right inside the scene.

Flash Fiction – Shall We Dance November 13, 2009

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,

This story is part of a series. Click Here to read from the beginning.

Grimm could not believe how much noise one small demi-human could make.  Nox getting ready for a date was like having a tornado rip through the apartment.  He sighed, and carefully marked the page of the book he had been trying to read with the silk ribbon attached to it.

“So, who’s your latest chew toy?”  Grimm teased.

Nox set down her eyeliner long enough shoot a withering glare at the hound. “His name is Roald, and we’re just going dancing.”

 “You never ask me to dance.”

A smile dimpled her cheek.  “I would, but you have two left feet.”

Alas, but you are right!” he said, looking mournfully at his paws. “Oh cruel fate, that left me a lowly hound…”

“Oh brother!”

Grimm snickered.  “You know, there is one dance I can do.”

Nox grabbed a pillow off the couch and threw it at him.  “If you do a leg dance on me I’ll have you neutered!”

“That’s one mighty pretty leg you have there, missy.” 

The doorbell cut short her reply.  She gave her make-up a last, quick check in the mirror and tossed a few things into her purse.  “Before you ask, yes, I have the aetheric box and I’ll call you if anything happens.”

“Have fun, short-stuff.” 

“I always do!” 

She hurried downstairs to the door, leaving Grimm in blissful silence.  He was just about to re-open his book when he heard the door slam open again. 

 “Grimm!”  Nox yelled. 

The hound dove down the stairs into the workshop.  Nox staggered inside with a strange man slumped against her.  Grimm put his head beneath the man’s arm to support his weight while Nox kicked the door shut.  They carefully guided the man to the floor.

“..sanctuary,”  he whispered in a hoarse voice.

Nox and Grimm exchanged a startled look.  “Santuary is granted.” Nox said.  Then she noticed his shirt was soaked in blood.  “Oh, crap. Get the medical kit, furball.” 

“Way ahead of you.” Grimm was already digging through piles of boxes to unearth a small, white case.   He dropped it next to where she knelt.  Blood was starting to pool on the floor, staining her dress.  “Hurry, little one, we’re losing him.”

Nox pulled a fragile looking crystal from the box, held it over her patient and crushed it.  Fine powder spread out over him, and then gathered in glittering swirls over his wounds.  “Be well, cousin.”  The words activated the spell woven into the dust, and the man shuddered as his flesh began to knit shut.  Nox held him down to keep him still while it worked.  “His aura is weak.  He’ll have to stay here for a few days at least.”

Grimm gave her a confused look. “Since when do you have a fire elemental for a cousin?”  

She shrugged.  “Technically, all of the kindreds are related, even if they won’t admit it.  Just like all humans are related.  Fortunately for him, the set-spell is triggered as much by belief as fact. As a scientist, I believe he’s very distantly related, so it works.”

“In that case, you’ve just become my favorite cousin.” the man said, smiling faintly.

“Welcome back to the land of the living.” Nox reached down to check his pulse.  “Stay still, that spell needs a few minutes to take full effect.”  She took a closer look at her visitor.  He was an average height, whipcord lean and had a saturnine face.  His ginger colored hair was cut short, as were his beard and moustache.  His eyes, when they opened again, were the color of cinnamon. 

“You’re Lucien’s girl, aren’t you?”  He gripped her arm with feverish strength.  “You have to warn him.  The House of Storms is lost, the Queens’ guard has turned traitor.  The Morning Lord rules in her stead…”  He fell back, eyes closing again. 

“Looks like you’ll get to start your new job as spy master a bit early.”  Grimm said.

Nox got up, searched for a clean rag and wiped the blood off of her hands. “I need to give my messenger birds a test run anyway, might as well do it now.”   She scribbled a note on a piece of paper and folded it into an origami hummingbird.  Her aura flared a brilliant blue, wisps of it wrapping around the bird.  She cupped it in her hands, whispered a few words and then tossed it into the air.  The little wings whirred as the bird zipped around the room, then it disappeared with a *pop*.  

A mumbled voice came from the floor.  “Don’t think I properly introduced myself, I’m Loki.”  He shakily pushed himself up on his elbows, and looked up at her. “Oh dear, I’ve ruined your evening plans.  How careless of me…”

Nox pressed him back down, a wry smile on her face. “Stay still, you stubborn fool.  I can resurrect the dress, but not the dead.” 

“And here I thought technomancers could work miracles.”  He said.

She held her thumb and forefinger close together. “Only small ones.  I’m afraid you won’t fit in the palm of my hand.”

He gave her a rakish smile. “Ah, but you hold my very life in your hands.  I am in your debt, dear lady.”

 She let out a very unladylike snort. “I can see why my father picked you for his spy corps.  You’re a real smoothie.” She helped him to sit up.  “C’mon, if you’re well enough to flirt, you’re well enough to stagger upstairs.”

Grimm allowed Loki to lean on him again to help him walk, and Nox ran ahead to clear off the couch.  Loki’s face was ashen by the time he made it up the short flight of stairs.  “You know, I think I might have to accept your offer to stay here…” he said, slowly falling into unconsciousness.

Nox shook her head. “This one’s going to be trouble.”

Grimm snickered. “I say that about you all the time.

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Flash Fiction – Automaton November 6, 2009

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: , ,

This story is part of a series.  Click Here to read from the beginning.

The past week had been a nightmare for Grimm.   There was no outward sign of the binding spell that Serenna had placed on him; the cords had become invisible as soon as the spell was complete.   But he could still feel them, winding ever tighter as he fought to break them.  He was trapped in his own mind, only able to watch as he moved through the motions of his daily routines. 

Nox had been acting strangely as well, no joking around or wild nights out on the town.  She had been tinkering at her workbench for days, barely taking time to eat or sleep.   Every attempt he had made to get her attention had failed, the most he had gotten was an odd look from her.  It was enough to make him want to howl in frustration, but the spell forced him to stay silent.

Nox pushed her chair back from the workbench and waved him over.  “Grimmalkyn, I need your help with an experiment.”

He felt himself get up and walk over to her. “If the experiment is dangerous, you should not be doing it, Lady Nox.”   C’mon short-stuff, I never call you Lady.  Please notice!  

She gave him another odd look.  “No, it’s safe. I just need a dogs-eye perspective.” 

 “If it helps to keep you safe, I will do it.”  Dammit, he sounded like a broken record, always saying ‘Stay safe, it’s too dangerous, your mother loves you.‘  He could feel the spell digging in again as he railed against having his words chosen for him.

Her face lit up in a smile, the first real emotion he had seen from her in days. “Fantastic!  So, you know I’ve made a study of auras.  You can use biometrics to trigger a device, like that bomb the Morning Lord created, simply by scanning an aura.  Works just like finger print or a retinal scanner.  Which is useful,” she says, “but I want to make machines that will be able to scan auras and make decisions based on the readings.  A-B-I, Artificial Biometric Intelligence.”  She held up a tiny, mechanical dog.  “Meet the Grimmlet, a fully automated self protection device.  Or at least, it will be when I take an imprint of your aura. You don’t mind, do you?”

“If it helps to keep you safe, I will do it.”  That earned him another odd look, and a frown.  Please, notice that there’s something wrong!  But she just shrugged. 

“The process is simple.  Here, let me get it started and I’ll show you.”  She used tweezers to pick up a tiny metal ball full of miniature gears.  A muttered word started the gears moving, and field of clear energy spun out from its core to encase it in a luminous globe.   She smiled again as Grimm leaned in close to look at it.  “That’s an actual aura it’s generating, although it’s just a blank slate.  It will take the imprint of the first person to touch it.  Go ahead, it won’t bite.  Well, not unless I program it to.”  She said, the smile turning into an impish grin. 

Grimm gingerly touched his nose to the globe, then watched, fascinated as it began to take on colors.  It changed from clear light to black swirls shot through with hints of pure gold. Was that what his aura looked like? 

She carefully popped it into the mouth of the little metal dog, and it made a ting-ting-ting noise as it rolled down into its belly.  The aura started to well outwards from every gap in the metal, growing stronger and brighter until it entirely encased the dog.  First an ear moved, then the nose twitched, then its head tilted to one side.  The tiny hinged mouth opened to let out a bark, and a miniature sound wave hit Grimm.

Grimm yelped as the wave hit him, that hurt!  Then he yelped again as the binding spell ripped off of him and arrowed across to the little dog, wrapping it in a sickly green light.

 “Hah! Got it!” Nox crowed. “What do you think of my mother?”

“She’s a pit viper.”  Grimm said, then his eyes widened in surprise.  “I can talk!”

“Sorry about the sting, but I had to make the transfer quick. Mother’s disciplinary spells are like duct tape, they hurt worse if you peel them off slow.”

 “Did she put one of those spells on you?” He growled. “If she did there’s going to be hell to pay.”

“No.  She just threatened to hurt you if I didn’t toe the line.  So I’ve been the perfect, industrious technomancer, working for the good of my House.” She smirks and points to the toy dog.  It lifted its hind leg to lick itself.  “Mother’s been using the spell to spy on your movements. That should create some interesting feedback.”  

Grimm snickered, and she winked at him. “If you liked that, then you’re going to love my new job.  I’m now the central contact for my father’s spy network.”

“You’re kidding?  Lucien went for it?”

“Father was impressed by the way I handled the situation with Kel.  We had a nice, long talk after mother walked out.  And since she didn’t stick around for the negotiations, she can’t object to anything that was decided.”

His tongue lolled out in a big, doggy grin.   “I’m liking this already. Go on.”

“Well, I’ll need to set up the right sort of place for meetings with the spies.” Nox said, pure mischief in her eyes.  “Not our apartment of course. Somewhere that attracts lots of travelers, lots of noise and quiet back rooms to meet in.  You know, like that place in the Bogart movie.” 

 “We’re going to open a bar!” Grimm howled with laughter.  “They’ll hear your mother’s scream for miles!”

“Revenge is a dish best served with a vodka martini, don’t you think?”

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