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Flash Fiction – Dancing in the Dark April 23, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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12 comments

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


Loki backed slowly into the horse stall, reaching behind him for his saddle bags.  “Nice kitty,” he said.    The creature outside gave a harsh, stuttering yowl.

“Did that thing just laugh at you?”  Chandra said, as she struggled to keep the panicked horse from bolting. 

Loki slipped out one of the pistols he had stowed in the packs, and pulled back the hammer with a quiet click.  “I hope not.  Something that big with a brain to match is damned dangerous. Ask me how I know.”

As if on cue, Grimm’s warning howl rang out from the inn.  Loki used the distraction to take down the creature with a couple of well-placed shots.  As the echoes from the gunshots faded, a host of big, yellow eyes turned in the direction of the stables.  “Ah, Hel.  Do you know how to reload these, CC?”

“I’ll figure it out.”  

“Good. Bullets in the left bag, blast caps in the right.” Loki gave up trying to count the pairs of eyes prowling around the darkened compound and started firing.  Between shots he could hear Nox yelling orders to the guardsmen.

 “She’s out there?” Chandra said, appalled.

“Of course she is, dammit. It’s what her father would do.”

Nox stood on top of the broad railing that ran around the porch of the inn, with Grimm crouched on the ground in front of her.  “Form up ranks!  Ranged attacks, don’t let ‘em get close!”  She whistled up a bitterly cold breeze, her breath coming out in puffs of vapor .  Her aura shield crackled and the electric blue light reflected off the ice crystals in the air to light up the entire compound. 

The men around her gasped as they got their first good look at the attackers.  The huge, tawny beasts resembled mountain lions, but with bulbous yellow eyes and long, sharp spines that ran down their backs.  “Steady!”  Nox said, as the creatures let out a simultaneous roar and charged.  “Archers, fire at will!  Warcasters, fire!”   A hail of arrows and elemental castings flew outwards in a deadly rain of metal and ice, but only the arrows had any effect. The spines lifted on the creatures’ backs and rattled as the war castings hit, breaking up the ice and scattering it before it could cut into them.

Nox picked up her own bow.  Small motors turned gears and pulleys to draw back heavy risers that were as thick as her arm.  A targeting spell floated glowing red crosshairs just in front of it, and a light touch to the focusing crystal on the bow string formed arrow out of ice.   “Acquire target. Lock.”  The metal bowstring released with a resounding *thump*, and the arrow hit one of the creatures mid-leap.  It went straight through the eye, hitting with enough force to spin it around in the air before it dropped to the ground.  “Repeat targeting sequence.  Lock.”  *THUMP*

The felines made a rush at one side of the defenders, pulling two men out into the courtyard to be shredded by the pack.  More of the big cats tried to rush into the breach, but Grimm materialized in front of them.  He howled and turned into a dog-faced gargoyle as they attacked, crushing the first two with swipes of his paws. He grabbed a third by the throat and gave a vicious shake of his head, and the creature’s neck broke with an audible crack.

Someone from the stables cried out over the din of the fight “Nox! Behind you!”  She spun around just as several big cats dove down from the roof of the inn. She screamed as their claws sank into her aura shield, and yanked her out into the courtyard.

She screamed again and convulsed as more claws tore at her shield. The claws glowed the same yellow as the creatures’ eyes, and each hit sent a backlash of energy through her nervous system.   Everything started to go blurry, and then suddenly Grimm was there.  He pounded the creatures into the dirt, each swipe of his claws backed by a ton of granite muscle.  One of the couriers rode out from the stables, and Nox had just enough wits left to grab his arm when he reached down to pull her up behind him.  She clung to his waist as he spun the horse around and made a dash back for the stables.

Her muscles still twitched and her vision swam with strange color patterns as she tried to look ahead.  She blinked, but the patterns didn’t go away. Some sort of sickly, orange energy covered the palisade walls like strangling vines.  Nox pointed ahead and yelled in the courier’s ear.  “Get me to the walls!  If we don’t wake up the trees, none of us are getting out of here!”  They galloped alongside the wall, Nox reaching out to light up the auras around the trees as they passed. “Keep going, I need to find the source!”   Grimm coursed along just behind them, taking out any cats that got too near.

 Nox leaned forward.  “There, stop there!” 

The horse reared as the man pulled it to a halt.  Nox grabbed the pistol he had tucked into his belt and fired it at what looked to be a knot in the vines.  The effect was immediate.  The energy ripped apart, and the trees swayed as if in a gale.  The ground rumbled and shook as the roots that criss-crossed the entire compound burst upwards and coiled around the creatures.  Panicked wails filled the night, and were abruptly silenced as the roots yanked the cats down into the earth. 

Ragged cheers broke out from the guards.  The whole courtyard was empty, not a sign of the cats remained.  Nox  glanced over at Grimm. “Someone wanted this waypost blind. We need to find out who, and why.”

Grimm growled ominously as he looked at the bodies of the guards who fallen in the battle.  “And then we make them pay for this.”


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Flash Fiction – Nightfall April 16, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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10 comments

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


After six days of heading south and east, Nox and Grimm arrived at the last waypost in the territory controlled by the House of Ice.  A palisade of living trees lined the compound, and the guards kept up a constant watch on the high walkways formed by intertwined branches.  The waypost only had three buildings; a rustic inn, a large stable and an even larger guard barracks. 

They sat together at one end of a rough-hewn trestle table in the main hall of the inn. Nox regarded the small mountain of food in front of them with dismay.  “Um, Grimm?  How much did you order?”

“I’m going to have to eat your cooking for the next two weeks.  I decided to fortify myself,” the ghost hound said loftily. 

“Fortify, eh? Is that the new term for gluttony?” Nox teased.

Grimm wolfed down a pile of roast beef. “Staying materialized takes energy, short-stuff.  And you should eat too, this is probably the last hot meal we’re going to get for a while. Fires attract all kinds of unwanted attention out there.”   

That thought robbed Nox of her appetite.  Knowing what was out in the wastelands was one thing. Getting ready to hike right out into the middle of them was quite another.  At the end of the war with the House of Winds, the Shadowkin had unleashed all of the horrors their biomancers created.  Many had been hunted down over the years, but hordes of mad creatures still roamed the highlands beyond the mountain passes.  Nox pushed aside her plate and dug into her satchel instead, re-checking their equipment.

Grimm picked up on her nervousness through the soul-bond they shared.  “We don’t have to do this you know. You said there were other ways.”

“Going back to your old home is the best chance we have of getting your memories back.”

“You know, I keep trying to wrap my brain around the idea that I wasn’t always a dog,”  he said. “I know that I was something else before this half-life. I remember fighting the Shadowkin, even if I don’t remember how I did it. But I can’t imagine not having a tail.” His telepathic voice held an indignant note. “I mean, your ears don’t even move, how do you people talk?”

Nox had to put a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. “I’m sure you’ll remember how.” 

“No tail. Hunh.”  He shook his head in disbelief.

Nox smiled and went back to rummaging in her bag.  “Eat your dinner, furball.  You don’t want to let your last decent meal go to waste.”

—-

A light mist had rolled in with the sunset, and Loki could just see Nox through gloom. She was chatting outside the inn with another woman, who was the owner of a trading caravan spending the night at the waypost.  He made sure to stay on the far side of his horse, in case Nox looked his way.  So far his disguise had held, but he did not want to push his luck.

He was posing as a courier today.  A bit of masking potion over his hair and eyelids gave him the appearance of a silver eyed, white haired snow elemental.    He had even shaved off his short beard, since no winter kindred would wear one.  He grimaced as the chill mountain winds prickled over his freshly shaven chin.  He missed the beard.

His horse gave him a reproachful nudge as he stopped brushing it to watch Nox.  “Sorry, old boy, but she’s a whole lot better looking than you.” The horse whickered and nudged him again, and Loki laughed as he went back to currying it.  “That’s it. I’m calling you Sybarite.” The horse just leaned into the curry comb.

The woman shook hands with Nox, and headed towards the stables.  She was a tall, blond water elemental with a golden tan and sea green eyes.  Loki waved to her. They had worked together as spies before, and were friends as well.  “Hello CC.  It’s been a long time.”

Chandra stared at him for a moment before returning his smile.  A quick touch to a spell gem in her necklace made sure no one could overhear them.  “Red!  I almost didn’t recognize you.“ She looked him up and down.  “I see you finally got rid of that scruffy beard.”

“Hey now, don’t mock the manly stubble. And the name today is Lance.”

She let out a delicate snort.  “Subtle.  I don’t have to ask why you’re here, what with all the rumors flying around.  Making a play for the boss’s daughter?  That’s a ballsy move, even for you.”

He went back to brushing his horse as it gave him another nudge.  “Don’t believe everything you hear. I am merely part of her security detail.”

“It’s only a rumor then? That’s good, considering I’m delivering a load of gifts from her next suitor.  Some young lordling with an influential father, ready to make a deal with the House of Ice.  Poor girl, I would hate to be in her shoes.  Must be terrible to know your future will be decided by politicians.”

The brush stopped moving.  “She’s not for sale.”

 “Honey, you know she’s out of your league.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know, CC.”

“You’re an orphan, Red. No one knows who your parents were, and your foster parents were only minor nobles. Without a lot of money or political clout…”  She was cut off as Loki’s horse let out a frightened whinny and tried to bolt from the stall.

Loki quickly grabbed the bridle and calmed him down.  “Whoa, easy, Sybarite.”  The other horses started to panic and kick at their stalls. “What’s gotten into them?”

“Red, the guard’s lamps just went out.”  

Something rattled the wall next to them, setting the horses off again. 

Loki stared into the darkness beyond the doorway, and large yellow eyes stared back.  “Oh, that can’t be good…”

 (to be continued…)


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Flash Fiction – Into the Wild April 9, 2010

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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9 comments

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


After a short meeting with her father, Nox called for Grimm and the two friends headed back to her workshop in town. It had been a silent journey, she was still hurting from having to leave Loki, and Grimm could not think of anything to say that would make it better.   She had not even been able to say goodbye to Loki, for fear that the curse would attack again.

An hour later, they were busy packing for a road trip. Grimm fetched items from the shelves while Nox shoved them into a bag that should have been far too small to hold it all. At one point she put her arm in past the elbow.  Grimm looked at it warily.  “Are you sure that thing is safe?”

“Relax, furball, I haven’t had a pocket portal blow up in weeks.  Although I did have one implode.  Made this really cool *boompf* sound.”   She pulled her arm out and reached for a pile of books.  “We can’t bring a pack animal, too many predators out there. Trust me, the bag is stable enough.”

The hound’s ears flicked forward.  Curiosity about the nebulous ‘plan’ Nox had for attacking the Shadowkin curse had been eating him alive all day.  “We’re not taking a portal?”

“Nope, we’re going to hoof it.  Well, walk it. Like I said, no horses.”   She set the bag aside and pulled a map out of a cubby hole over her desk.  She looked at him for a long moment, obviously still deciding whether to tell him their destination or not.  He did not take offense at it though, what he knew, the Shadowkin knew as well. 

She shrugged and rolled out the map.  “Father said you’d remember how to get through all the ward spells. If you don’t want to go though, I’ll think of something else.”

Grimm looked at where her finger was pointing, and his heart gave a little leap. “Home,”  he said, with a note of longing in his voice.  “We’re going to the House of Winds.”  Excitement bubbled up in his chest and his tail wagged dangerously fast in the cluttered workshop.

“Easy there, furball!  The castle is a ruins, it won’t be quite like you remember it.”

“But we are going there to get my memories back.”

“Amongst other things,” she said.

He took a look at one of the clocks that told time in this dimension. “When do we leave?”

 “As soon as I pack some food.  We can restock at the guard posts along the way, but once we’re past the last one we’ll only have what we can carry.  Which is quite a lot, actually.”  Nox peeked inside the bag.  “Probably room for a week’s worth at least.  Ain’t technology grand?” 

“It is certainly useful.  As long as it doesn’t go *boompf* while your arm is inside the bag.”

She just grinned and put a few empty coffee mugs on the corners of the map.  “Father suggested we take the north pass through the mountains.”

Grimm shook his head.  “No, that way is prone to avalanches.  I know a shortcut by the eastern route.”

“I don’t know. That takes us awfully close to the territories run by the House of Storms.  Last bit of intel had the Morning Lord holed up there like a fat spider, waiting for something to fall into his webs.”

“He won’t have my route blocked.  I doubt there’s anyone alive who remembers it.”

Nox shrugged.  “Okay, I’ll leave the route up to you then.” She hopped off the stool she had been sitting on, and headed upstairs to rummage through the kitchen.  A few minutes later they were locking the shop up behind them. 

Grimm lifted his nose to the wind, breathing in deeply.  It was good to be on the road again, after a month cooped up at the mansion.  There was an eager bounce to his step as he paced beside his small friend.  He was going home!

—-

Loki burned the note Nox had left to ash.  She was sending him away, with the excuse that he would never fully recover if he kept hanging around here.  He flung the ashes into the fireplace and headed for her room. He could have left weeks ago, he had been hanging around for her.  He still wasn’t sure just what had happened the day before, but he wasn’t going to let her go without getting an answer. 

Her door was open, so he didn’t bother knocking.   “We need to talk.”

“I believe we do, young man.”  Nox’s mother looked up from the piles of papers she was sorting through at her daughter’s desk.

Loki bowed.  “My apologies, Ambassador.  I’ll come back another time.”

“No, sit down.  She’s not here.”

Loki took the chair across from her.  “I have not had the chance to thank you properly, Lady Serenna.  This is the second time your healing spells have saved my life.”

“And you have saved my daughter’s life as many times.  Unfortunately, I am going to have to ask you to put your life at risk again. Do you know where she has gone?”

“No ma’am.  I’m sure you guessed from my, ah, abrupt entry, that we’re not exactly on good terms right now.”  He was surprised to see a sympathetic look on her face.

“It has begun, hasn’t it?  The distance, the lies… For years I could do nothing but watch as the curse changed my Lucien.  I have fought in every way I know how to keep it from my daughter, but my own husband has worked against me.  He could not see the danger while bound to Grimmalkyn.”

“Grimm would never hurt Nox.”

“But he is not always the one in control, is he?”

Loki sat forward, fear for Nox turning into a cold lump in his stomach.  “Where is he taking her?”

She held up a book about the House of Winds. “To the most dangerous place in the world.”


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Flash Fiction – Heart and Soul April 2, 2010

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

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


Nox loved to watch Loki move.  He was practicing fencing drills in the guard’s gymnasium, unaware that she was standing in the doorway.  He made it look so easy, every motion of the sword was smooth and precise.  She waited to go inside until he was done, to keep from breaking his concentration.

Loki turned around as he heard her approach, a look of pleasant surprise on his face.  “Well hello, stranger!  Where have you been hiding?”

“Some of us have work to do, slacker,” she said with a grin, and tossed him a towel off of the rack. “How are you feeling?”

Loki caught the towel and dried off the sweat from his exertions. “Better. Not quite back to form, but I think that has more to do with the storms your father has been flinging around.  You can tell him that I said it’s working. I doubt any fire elemental besides yours truly is still in the hemisphere.”

Nox laughed. “I’ll let him know.” 

He slung the towel around his neck and walked over to stand in front of her. “I’m sure you didn’t invade this bastion of testosterone just to discuss the weather.  What’s on your mind, beautiful?”

“I need your help with something.”

He scooped up her hand and kissed it.  “Name it and it’s yours.”

She cleared her throat, determined not to get sidetracked.  “I need to learn how to fence.  Sword fight. Whatever, you know what I mean.”   She winced as she realized she was babbling. 

He raised an eyebrow.  “Well, that’s not quite what I had expected.”

“It was Grimm’s idea.  He says the whole mind-body coordination thing will be good for me.  I’m his anchor to the mortal realms, so the stronger I am, the easier it is for him to fight off the Shadowkin curse.”

“Not to mention it will give your mother fits.”

She smiled beatifically. “Why yes, it will have that little side benefit, won’t it?”  Mischief twinkled in her eyes.  “Mother still has hopes of selling me off into marriage for some political alliance.  I have all sorts of plans to ruin my price on the marriage market.”

“Like I said, anything I can do to help.” He moved closer, and started kissing each finger.

Nox blushed. “Down, boy.  Now, about those fencing lessons.  I expect you to behave yourself,” she said, then scowled at his wicked smile.  “I mean it, I want to learn for real. None of that silly giggling and grab-ass the guardsmen do with their dates.”

“You want our date to be different, then?”

Nox spluttered. “What? Date? I’m talking about fencing!”

“And I’m talking about us.”  He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her against him.  “We have been dancing around each other for months.  I like the game as much as anyone, but I had this crazy idea that we might be something more.”  His voice had a husky edge to it. “So, are we?”

Nox was caught somewhere between saying ‘Yes’ and ‘Maybe’ when the Shadowkin struck.  One minute she was looking into his cinnamon colored eyes, and the next he was lying at her feet in a pool of his own blood.  There was a blood covered knife made of ice in her shaking hands.  She whispered, “No” and tried to back away, but she could not move. 

“No?” Loki’s shocked voice cut through the vision.  He was still standing there, holding her, looking bewildered. 

She could hear the Shadowkin laughing as she pulled free from him.  “You need to stay away from me.” 

“Nox, I know ice elementals move a bit slower than fire, but I thought…”

She could still feel the illusory blood on her hands. She backed away, scrubbing her palms on her pants.  “I… I have to go. I’m sorry.”  She turned and ran out of the room.

Loki stood there, completely stunned. “So am I…”

Nox hurried through the back hallways of the mansion to avoid meeting anyone else. The voices of the Shadowkin battered at her mind.  (“You dared to challenge us.” “Did you think that there would be no consequences?”)

Grimm materialized directly in front of her.  “I heard, little one.  I’m here.” 

Nox skidded to a halt, nearly running into the ghost hound.  She was still trying to rub the imagined blood off her hands.

Grimm’s voice rumbled in her head, drowning out the mocking laughter of the Shadowkin.  “Look at me, little one.  Look. At. Me.”   He waited until she focused on him. “Think, where have you seen that image before?”

Nox took a deep breath to try and calm her racing heart. “It was so vivid. Oh, Hel.“  Anger quickly replaced the fear.  “They took my memories of that first night we met Loki. He bled all over the floor of the workshop.”

“And you got blood on your hands.  They just altered the memory a bit.”

She clenched her fists at her sides.  “Can they make me kill him for real?”

“Maybe, if they get a strong enough hold over you. They’ll have to go through me first though.” Grimm said, looking ominous.

“Thanks Grimm, but I’m sure you don’t want to tag along on dates.”

The hound got a funny look on his muzzle.  “Oh. That could be a bit awkward.”

Nox sighed. “Don’t worry, my love life is going to be a non-issue for a while.”

“Aren’t you going to explain this to Loki?”

“And say what?  Sorry, I was possessed by the curse, and I’ll probably slit your throat when you least expect it.” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’ll go over well.”

“You can’t go your whole life avoiding people.”

“I don’t plan on it. This fight isn’t over yet.” Nox hurled a razor sharp thought at the Shadowkin.  “I have your names, you bastards. By the time I’m done with you, there won’t be enough left to go to Hel. You pissed off the wrong woman!” 


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