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Flash Fiction – Coffee Break January 29, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning.  

Nox sat at her workbench, with an empty coffee mug at her elbow and a large stack of notes close to hand. She had re-read the last section of Lord Galen’s journal at least fifty times, and every time something new had shown up in the text. Which meant she had to annotate her notes.  Stupid enchanted journal.  She shoved her hair back out of her eyes and reached for the coffee pot, but it was ice cold. “Dammit.” she muttered.  She picked up the offending pot and spun around to hop off of her stool, only to find Loki standing right behind her.  

“Gaahh!  I swear I’m going to put a bell on you!” she said, her heart pounding from the scare. The coffee pot sloshed as she tried to keep it from spilling. 

Loki laughed and took the pot from her.  “I think you’ve had quite enough caffeine, little lady.  You’re wound tighter than a harp string.”  He tipped up her chin with his free hand, and viewed the dark circles under her eyes.  “When was the last time you got some rest?” 

Nox batted his hand away and sat back down.  “I’m fine.  Any news, Mr. Spy Man?” 

He gave her a skeptical look, but answered anyway.  “Nothing much.  I went back down into the tunnels to see if our friendly neighborhood cultists left anything behind.  Surprisingly nothing has changed since we had our run-in with them.  I suppose they were too afraid of Grimm to go back for the bodies.” 

Nox sat up straighter.  “You went back down there?  You’re crazy!” 

“All part of the glamorous life of a spy. Skulking through dank tunnels, rummaging through dead-men’s pockets for loose change.”  He sat down a few copper coins next to the coffee pot.  “Normally I wouldn’t have bothered picking these up, except that every dead cultist had exactly one newly minted coin in their pocket. I thought maybe they were using the coins to identify themselves when they weren’t wearing their official robes, so I did some checking around.   Didn’t get any hits though.  Either they changed the token they’re using, or I missed giving the secret handshake.” 

Nox rummaged through a drawer for a jeweler’s loupe, and took a closer look at a coin.  “Minted by the Mountain Clans.” She turned it over.  “Nothing out of the ordinary, though I can always analyze the metal content.”   She set it down and put a finger on it, frowning in concentration. With an electric sizzle, a web of light shot out and connected the coins.  She quickly jerked her hand back. “Whoa!  Not good!”  Nox scooped up the coins and ran to the far end of the workbench. She slapped a lever on the wall and tossed the coins into the containment field that sprung up. 

Loki peered over her shoulder at them.  “Well, that was entertaining!  I take it you know what just happened?” 

Nox let out a nervous laugh. “Yeah, I nearly dumped us down another portal hole.”   She fidgeted with a few more levers and dials, until the coins were floating suspended in the energy field.  

Loki let out a low whistle.  “I nearly bought a coffee with those today.” 

They looked at each other, then burst out laughing.  Nox shook her head. “You’ve been carrying the triggers for five portals in your pocket?” she said, still laughing. 

Loki made a face and waggled his fingers.  “What can I say? I don’t have your magic hands. As far as I knew, they were ordinary coppers.”  He gave the coins a speculative look.  “I’ve been trying to figure out how the Morning Lord got enough troops into the Storm Queen’s stronghold to pull off the coup.  Now I know.  All he had to do was seed the area with these.” 

Nox drummed her fingers on the bench top.  “There has to be a limit to the area affected by the portal triggering mechanism.  Otherwise there’d be holes opening up all over the country, there’s no way to keep all the coins from circulating outside the area you want to hit.” 

“Even a handful in the right place would be enough to do the job.  I’ll warn your father about them, before any more of his allies get invaded. And you,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at her, “need to get some rest. Come on, upstairs with you.”  

“I can put myself to bed without any help, thank you.” she said, tartly. 

There was a wicked gleam in his eyes. “But what fun would that be?” 

“Coins. Warnings. Go deliver.” 

“Not until I see you actually lie down, if I turn my back you’ll be right at that workbench again.” 

“I will not! And you are not getting anywhere near my bed!” Nox said, yawning as she made her way through the clutter towards the stairs to the loft. 

Behind them, Grimm materialized, chuckling quietly.  If those two didn’t end up a couple he’d eat his favorite book.   He started to follow them upstairs, but got distracted by a buzzing sound in his ears. The hound shook his head so hard his ears flapped.  Ever since Nox had brought that journal home, he’d been hearing a strange sound, like surf at the beach, or the murmur of voices from a room full of people.  He padded over to the workbench.  There it was, the book with the answers Lucien had mentioned.  It was right out in the open, almost if it was planned. Or meant to be. Why else would Nox be so careless… 

Grimm shook himself from nose to tail and with an effort of will managed to wrench himself away from it.  He knew something in that journal would cause him to hurt Nox, so he wouldn’t read it.  No matter what the voices told him.  

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Flash Fiction – Ancient History January 22, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning. 

From the journal of Lord Galen, master of the House of Winds.  

Wintertide, in the 10th day of the Snow Moon

The patient is resting.  I would weep if I had tears left to shed, but this war has numbed my capacity for grief. So many of my people are dead, or broken beyond all hope of recovery.  I founded this House as a place of healing, a sanctuary, and here lies one who dedicated his life to my dream.  I could not ask for a more loyal servant, nor a more faithful defender of the helpless.   Our enemies called him the hound, and with his usual good humor he took it as a compliment. 

I say he lies here, but there is little left of the man I knew.  They have given him a new name, Grimmalkyn, and he will answer to no other.  I would not have recognized him at all, if not for the intelligence I saw behind the eyes of this poor, tormented creature.  The House of Shadows has acquired a biomancer, and they have begun unholy experiments combining man and beast, the living, and the dead.  The lucky ones did not survive the process.  I suppose they thought it would be amusing to turn the man into his namesake.  We managed to stop them before they could finish their evil work, but I was unable to reverse the changes.  He is a hound in truth now, and a hound he will remain. 

Estrel, in the 30th day of the Ice Moon

We are losing him.  Despite our best efforts to remind Grimmalkyn of who he was, he is slowly losing any memory of life before his transformation.  I fear for us all if he should lose his fight with this curse the shadowkin have laid upon him.  He needs some anchor, some tie to the mortal realms to give him the strength to keep fighting.   Many of his old comrades in arms have offered to be soul-bound to him, but a life is so fragile, so easily lost.  If his anchor dies, there will not be time to establish a new connection, and the curse will be set loose.  Even now, he wanders the halls arguing with ‘the voices.’  I do not think he can hold on for much longer.  

I realized too late that the shadowkin allowed us to rescue him.  Their intent was to create a monster, the ultimate weapon to track down and kill every man, woman and child connected to the House of Winds.  And I, in my compassion and pity, brought him here into our midst.  It is only a matter of time before the last remnant of the man is gone, and only the monster remains.  I must find a way to save Grimmalkyn, for all our sakes.

Maya, in the 4th day of the Flower Moon

The war is escalating.  I doubt that I will live long enough to find a cure for Grimmalkyn.  All I have done is buy him time.  His anchor is hidden, in earth and stone, and in the departed souls of his brothers in arms.  The graveyard I chose for him has remained undisturbed for centuries, and it is my hope that it will do so for many more.  I have cast every spell I know to help bolster his fading memories, but there are still many gaps.  He does not remember what was done to him, or that he was once a man.  All he remembers is his duty, and his devotion to protecting the lives of our people.  He clings to it like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood.  I have used that protective instinct to spellbind him to guard my bloodline.  Having a purpose has calmed him, and, so he tells me, silenced the voices in his head.  

I cannot allow him to remember the process used to bind him to the graveyard. What he knows, the curse knows as well, and it works constantly to free itself.  I have left the key to the binding with a friend, in the hope that someday the curse will be broken, and he can safely be set free again.

Juno, in the 21st day of the Summer Moon

We make our final stand at dawn.  The only slim bit of hope is that there are as few of them left as there are of us. With luck, we will take them down the Long Road with us.  I have sent the wounded away into hiding, and have warned them to forget they ever had any tie to the House of Winds.  If we fail, that name will only bring them to grief.

Tonight, I will make my last attempt to break Grimmalkyn’s curse.  I have found what I hope is a weakness in it.  The willing sacrifice of one he has sworn to protect may at last break its hold.  A life for a life.   I will pour all of my energy, all that I am into a final strike.  At the least, the energy will strengthen Grimmalkyn, and give him the means to keep fighting.

I have left the last defense of the citadel in the hands of my generals, for they know better than I how to wage a war.  I am a man of peace, a healer.  This sacrifice will be my last gift to our people.  If I can safeguard them from the certain death that lies hidden inside of Grimmalkyn, then I can die content in the knowledge that I have done my best for them.

 I must go, it will soon be midnight.  It is time.

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Flash Fiction – The Stand-off January 16, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning. 

Lucien motioned Grimm away from the door to the vault with his sword. “I don’t know what hold you have over my daughter, or what oaths you may have made her swear, but you will release her from them.”

 “I can’t.”  The ghostly hound eyed up the sword, weighing his options. 

 “Can’t, or won’t?”    

 Grimm paced back and forth, but Lucien stayed between him and the vault door.  Which meant he was between Grimm and Nox.   “I can’t, and you know it.  Everything she has done was of her own free will. Nox is as stubborn as you are, she won’t change her mind. She insists that she can break my curse.”

 Lucien slashed at Grimm’s throat.  “It will destroy her! Galen himself couldn’t break the curse, he died trying. You would sacrifice my only child for nothing!” 

 Grimm just barely managed to dodge the blade. The room was crowded with chairs and tables, eventually he would have to dematerialize to avoid a blow. There would be a moment during the transition when he would be vulnerable – and Lucien knew it. The only thing Grimm could do was stall for time, and hope Nox found that book she wanted so they could get out of here. “We do not need to fight.  Put the sword down, and we’ll talk.”

 “We are done talking, Grimmalkyn. You will release her from her oath, or I will make you let her go.” Lucien stepped forward, and the temperature in the room dropped as he gathered in power.  Ice formed along the blade, and energy wrapped around his fists.

 Grimm crouched low, hackles up and growling, waiting to see where the attack would come from. 

 Neither of them expected it to come from Nox. 

 The whole room lit up with the electric blue energy of her aura, blinding them after peering so long through the darkness. By the time they could see again, Nox was standing next to Grimm with her aura shield glimmering around them.  “You want a fight, father, you’ll have to take us both on. And you know that won’t end well.”

 “For once in your life, daughter, you need to listen to me. Get away from him!”  Lucien said, a mix of anger and worry in his eyes.

 “No way. I am going to set Grimm free of both his curse, and these chains. I won’t be foresworn.”

 Grimm and Lucien spoke at the same time.  “What chains?”

 Nox resisted the urge to smack her forehead, having just had the same conversation hours before with Grimm.  “Déjà vu.  Look, you’re both going to have to trust me.  Grimm keeps forgetting everything about them, and no one else can see them.”  She held up her hands to forestall their questions.  “Hear me out, please.”

 Lucien kept his sword trained on Grimm.  “I have read every book in that vault, and there is nothing in there about chains.”

 Nox gave him a wry smile.  “No, but Lord Galen did mention what they were connected to.  Grimm is trapped somewhere between life and death, he needs an anchor to hold him here on earth. His anchor used to be the graveyard.  I expected him to take off when I set him free from service to us, but he stayed with me.”

 Nox winced as she saw the dawning look of horror on her father’s face. “I miscalculated.  I didn’t really set him free, I just changed the spell’s focus.”  She gave her father a helpless little shrug. “I’m his anchor now.  No one ever wrote about the chains, because he was never anchored to a person before.  They couldn’t see them.”

 Grimm’s ears flicked backwards, then forward again. “I remember feeling a connection to you that day. It was so faint though, I didn’t pay any attention to it.”

 “It’s subtle, but it’s there.  I’m afraid our fates are bound together, for good or ill.” Nox said.

 Grimm gave her a big, doggy grin. “I can think of worse things to have happen.”

 Lucien still looked bleak.  “So can I.”  He went into the vault, and came back out with an ancient journal. He held it out to Nox.  “I will lend this to you on one condition  – you cannot let Grimm read it.  I ask this for his sake, as much as your own.  You will understand when you read it.  And when you are done, and have questions, come to see me.”

Nox took the book from him, curiosity warring with trepidation. Anything that upset her father’s legendary calm was worth worrying about.  “What’s in here?”


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Flash Fiction – Night Raid January 8, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning. 

The crescent moon hung low in the sky, barely illuminating the frozen river.  Nox had skated right up to the edge of the bridge that formed the base of her family’s ancestral mansion.  A whisper of power solidified the ice beneath her feet, but just beyond them ice and rocks ground together in the torrent that rushed between the support columns.  She cupped her hands and blew into them, and a chunk of pure, elemental ice formed.  She held out her hands and dropped it into the water.  “Rakastar.” 

Grimm let out a whurf of canine laughter. “Are you on a first name basis with every guardian around the mansion?”

Nox looked up at him and smiled. “What do you think?” 

“I think it’s far too large to come home with us.”

“Don’t worry, it’s happy here.  You, on the other hand, were miserable.”

The grinding sound grew louder, followed by a gigantic, scaly head breaking through the ice.  The frost drake reared up, then dropped its head lower to peer at Nox.  She reached up and stroked the pearly white scales over its nose.  “Hello Rakastar.  Long time, no see.”

She cupped her hands and blew into them again, creating an even larger lump of elemental ice.   Rakastar reached down and delicately ate it, not touching her hands despite the fact that its teeth were the size of Nox’s head.  She pointed at the bridge. “We need a lift to the loose cobblestone. Can you take us up?”

The drake blinked once, then lowered its head to the ice.  Nox unclipped the skate blades from her boots and clambered up between the curving horns on its head.  Grimm jumped up beside her.  

“You certainly do things in style.” He said, his tail wagging enthusiastically as they ascended. 

“I used to sneak back into the mansion like this all the time, when I had been out too late.” Nox said. 

The drake stopped just below the nearest arch of the bridge, and Nox reached up to push on one of the stones.  It lifted and moved aside on its own, leaving a hole just large enough for Nox and Grimm to fit through.  A moment later they were inside, and Nox reached down to pat Rakastar on the nose again.  “We should be back soon, watch for my signal.” The frost drake blinked an acknowledgement and dropped out of sight.

Nox returned the cobblestone to its place, then looked around.  “Now, where was that hidden stairway…”

Grimm pointed to remains of one of the old shops that had lined the bridge.  “Right here,” he said, “it goes straight up to the library.  Your great-grandfather was a paranoid old codger, had at least three different escape routes built into various parts of the building.” He nudged a carving in the stone with his nose, and the wall shifted to reveal the stairs.  The room at the top of them was pitch dark, so Grimm guided Nox through the maze of chairs and tables to the small door that marked the entrance to the vault.  The climate controlled room held all of the oldest and most fragile tomes in her father’s collection. And, as such, it was the most heavily warded room in the entire mansion.

Nox rubbed her hands against her pants to remove any perspiration, then pulled the replica she had made of her father’s seal out of her pocket.  “Here goes nothing.”  She placed the seal against the matching indentation in the wood, and twisted.  There was a loud click, and they both froze in place.  No alarm was raised though. Nox let out the breath she had been holding.  “Hot damn, we’re in business!  Time to get your memories back, furball.”

Grimm hadn’t realized just how many gaps there were in his memory till Nox had started asking him questions.  He was so excited about getting them back, it was all he could do to keep his tail from wagging again, and knocking over something priceless.  He looked eagerly around the vault.  Lucien had been adamant about keeping him out of here, but would never give him a reason why.  Or perhaps he had, and Grimm just couldn’t remember? Well, hopefully that would be fixed soon. He had every faith in Nox’s abilities.

Nox perused the tomes, trying to figure out where the journals were kept.  She had been lucky the last time she broke in here, the book she needed had been sitting out on the reading lectern that night.  Now the pedestal was empty, and she had no idea how the books were organized.  “So much for this being a quick visit.  We’re looking for Lord Galen’s day journal, the last of them. You start at that end, and I’ll start on the far side of the room.” She disappeared into the back stacks, and Grimm started with the shelves near the door. 

He knew they needed to hurry, but he couldn’t help lingering over a few volumes.  Histories of the Great Houses of the elementals, treatises on the arcane arts…he was just deciding whether they had time for a quick look at them when he felt a puff of air brush past him as the door opened.  He spun around to find himself looking straight into the pale, merciless blue eyes of his former master.   Grimm had never seen him look so angry.  He decided to play it cool.  “Hello Lucien. I see you’re up for a bit of late reading too?” 

“Outside. Now.”

Grimm flattened his ears, then shrugged. He had been meaning to have a talk to Lucien anyway.  He sent a private thought to Nox.  “Hurry up, short-stuff. We’ve got company.”  With a last, longing glance at the stacks, he padded out of the room.

Lucien was standing outside, a book in one hand and a sword in the other, which was pointed at Grimm’s throat.  “I am not going to let you destroy my daughter!”

(to be continued!)

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Flash Fiction – The Binding January 1, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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This story is part of a weekly series, updated every friday. Click Here to read from the beginning.  (Picking up where we left off two weeks ago in ‘No Mercy.’   Happy New Year!) 


“Nox, I could have killed Loki. I nearly did!”  

“No, you wouldn’t have.  You are a guardian, you can’t hurt anyone you’ve agreed to protect.” 

Grimm heaved a sigh.  “I am a guardian under a curse, little one. This is the only way to make me safe.  What if you had still been unconscious from the chloroform?  Do you think I could have stopped?  The curse grew stronger with every man I killed.” 

“You were fighting it, I could see it.” She said. 

“Yes, I was fighting it, and losing.”  The hound hung his head, and his tail drooped low. “We tried, Nox.   But I failed.  You have to bind me to your will, and return me to the graveyard.  It is the only way. I do not want to risk hurting my friends again.”  

She lifted her chin stubbornly.  “No. I told you I would never give up on you, and I meant it. This curse has dominated your life for thousands of years.  It’s about time you took your life back.” 

His mental voice sounded weary.  “But at what cost?” 

“If there’s a cost, then I’ll pay it. I bound myself to you the day I set you free, remember? I pledged my life to giving you your freedom.  Did you think that was a joke?” 

He looked up at her. “Oh child, what have you done?” 

“I realize you may not have noticed, but I am not the little girl you told stories to anymore.  I will help you break this curse…” 

“No!”  he growled.  “I won’t let you.  You don’t know what you’re saying!” 

“It’s already done, Grimm.  I offered that day, and you accepted.” She wagged a finger at him and smiled.  “You can’t take it back now. Trust me, I’m good at finding loopholes in spells.  Goodness knows my mother gave me enough practice at it.” 

Just then the door banged open, and Loki entered with an armload of bags. The sudden breeze wafted the smell of exotic spices upstairs. “I come bearing dinner, and lots of it. I figured we could all use a quiet night at home after the mess today.” He elbowed the door shut.  “Not to mention we have a bit of brainstorming to do as well.  We need to figure out how they opened those portals, who all the players were, why they were making a grab for us…”  He paused long enough to set the bags down in the kitchen.  “…and what our next move is.”  He finally looked at the two of them. “Ah, did I interrupt something?” 



They glared at each other. 

Nox crossed her arms.  “Grimm thinks I should send him back to that awful graveyard, that he’s not safe to be let loose.” 

“I’m not.” Grimm growled.  “Your father knew that, and I should have listened to him!” 

Loki hooked a chair with his ankle, spun it around and sat down with his arms resting on the back.  “You want to know what I saw today?”  he said, with a wry smile. He lifted a hand and started ticking off points on his fingers.  “First, you shielded me from the flood.  Second, you took out the elementals causing the flood. Third, you cleared the way so that I didn’t have to fight anyone on the way in.  Fourth, despite the fact that the black stuff in your aura looked like it was trying to eat you alive, you still kept looking for ways to stall, and get us safely out of there. So yes, you miserable cur, let’s punish you for your heroics.”  

Grimm shook his head.  “You’ve been spending far too much time with Nox.  You’re getting to be as crazy as she is!” 

Nox laughed. “Give it up, furball.  You’ve been out-voted, you belong here.”

Grimm flopped down on the floor and sprawled out with a heavy sigh.  “If I’m going to stay, you’d better have a solid plan in place, little one.” 

“Way ahead of you. Now that I’ve finally seen the chains that are holding the curse on you, I can start figuring out how to unlock them.  For the longest time I thought you were just being melodramatic when I heard them.  You know, ghost, chains, wooo.”  She waggled her fingers at him.

Grimm and Loki looked at each other in confusion. “What chains?”

“Oh come on, how else did you think I always knew where you were?  I just listened for the clanking sounds.”   Nox frowned as she saw their skeptical looks.  “I’m not crazy.  I could see them clear as day when I lit up your aura, they’re connected to manacles just above your paws. Here, I’ll show you.” She reached out and ignited his aura, which had returned to its usual swirl of black and gold.  “There, see?” 

Loki rubbed his beard.  “No, not really.  But I’ll take your word for it.” 

Grimm held up one paw and peered closely at it. “Nothing.”  He put his paw back down.  There was something he was forgetting about his curse.  Something someone told him a very long time ago.  

Nox waved a hand in front of his muzzle.  “Yoohoo, are you going to sit there all night, or are you going to eat? 

Grimm blinked in surprise.  They had served dinner, and his was already getting cold. What had just happened?  “Oh, sorry.  I guess I was busy thinking.”  His voice trailed off, and he stared at his plate.  What had he been thinking of? Oh well, can’t have been important, and he was very hungry.  He could always ask Nox later.  “So, what were we talking about?” 

“How to get those chains off of you.” she said. 

“What chains?” 

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