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Flash Fiction – Take No Prisoners August 26, 2011

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The friendly barge captain sent Loki and Anders on their way with wave and a couple jugs of moonshine to barter for a ride north.  For once luck was with them.  A farmer and his two sons were more than happy to give them a lift, in exchange for a share of the hootch.  “Cleans the pipes and clears the mind of any pesky thoughts,” the farmer said, taking a long pull that could have dropped his ox in its tracks. The farmer rather reminded Loki of the ox that pulled his wagon, for that matter – he had broad shoulders and a bull-neck, and was as Earthy as the element he worked with.  His boys were cast from the same mold, if a bit less stocky.  He introduced them with a few quick jabs of a finger. “That’s Chaz, Chip, and I’m Chet.”

“Anders, and Lance,” Loki replied, ignoring the roll of the eyes from his friend.

“Lance? Bet the girls love that one!” Chet said, with a loud Haw-Haw for a laugh. He took another swig of hootch and got the wagon rolling again with a quick snap of the reins.

The merry, tipsy lot of them rode through the evening, with the stolid ox snorting now and then in protest at the quality of their singing. They were on the fifteenth chorus of “Roll me over” when the ox let out a bellow, and the wagon lurched as it made a sharp turn.  Chet jumped down to wrestle his spooked ox to a halt, and peered through the gloom. “Something in the road. Check it out, boys, but carefully.”

Loki hopped out of the wagon with them and looked around for heat signatures. A number of odd lumps in the road were swiftly cooling. That, along with the sharp, metallic tang in the air told him what was waiting for them. He reached out and grabbed the boy’s arms. “Stay here. Anders, we’ve got trouble.”  He channeled Fire and scarlet flames flickered around his hand. The light illuminated the bodies strewn across the rutted track. Every one of them was a red-haired Fire kindred. His people. He stood there, stunned at the sheer number of bodies.

Anders, shocked sober, knelt down next to the nearest of them. “There were kids with them. Bloody Hel.”

Chip was noisily sick in the bushes, but Chaz, the older of the two, knelt down next to Anders. “I know them. Fire nomads, they came into town to trade at market. They had a disagreement with a press gang from New Dawn though, and left early.”

Loki moved through the bodies, checking each one for a pulse. “What press gangs?”

Chaz gave him an odd look. “Where have you been hiding? They’re all over the region, rounding up every Fire kin they can find. Some nonsense about defending the homeland from the Winter kin, but everyone knows Lord Ice was a friend of Fire. It’s the Morning Lord he hates.”

Anders steered Chip away from the carnage. “Go help your dad with the ox. You too, Chaz. We’ll handle this.” He caught up to Loki, who was already halfway out of sight around a bend in the track.

“There are no teenage boys, and only a few younger men,” Loki said. “They must have taken them, and slaughtered the rest.”

Anders face was set as hard as Loki’s. “What’s the plan, Red? Do we hunt them down?”

“No need. They’ll come to us.”  Loki moved back through the bodies, and took a string of glass beads from the hair of each one. He gave them to Chet. “Next time you see one of the nomads, give them this. They’ll want to know who was lost.”

“How many men were in the press gang?” Anders asked.

“Three dozen, maybe.  Less now, I’d guess. Fire kin don’t go down without a fight.” Chet gave his boys a worried look. “What are you planning on doing?”

Loki turned back to the still forms in the road. “I’ll return them to the elements. Once the road is clear, get your boys home and stay there.”

“Well, if you need a place to stay when you’re done, turn right at the crossroads up ahead. My farm is three miles to the north.”

Loki nodded his thanks, and walked away.  He held out his hand, palm up, and the dragon tattoo rose to the surface of his skin and coiled down his arm. It breathed fire into his palm, and he sent it out in little sparks of incandescent heat. As each spark touched a body, it roared into a pillar of flame, leaving nothing but a scorched mark on the earth to mark their passing.

“How long till those bastard cultists notice that and get back here, do you think?” Anders said.

“Soon enough. Take no prisoners.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

A half hour later, two scouts in the unmistakable robes of the New Dawn cult rode up and dismounted to investigate the scorched ground. The minute they were off their horses Anders struck. Lightning shot out from the Storm kin’s hand, arcing from one scout into the next and making them jerk in a terrible parody of dance. Loki drew in a bit of Earth energy for strength and snapped their necks.

“No blood, no fuss, no muss,” Anders said, with a bleak smile.  They tossed on the robes and mounted up, with Anders pulling up the hood to hide his silver hair.

They hit the cultist’s camp like a thunderclap. They rode up at a gallop, their robes letting them get close, but kept going and trampled the guards beneath the horse’s iron-shod hooves. More lightning shot out and sent six of them to a smoking end, dancing a gallows jig on the way. Loki’s horse got cut out from under him, but he rolled with it and hit the ground running. A pair of sabers made of fire were in his hands and he whirled through their ranks, felling his opponents like a scythe through wheat.

It was over in minutes. Loki knelt down and placed his hand on the ground. Earth was only his secondary element, and it took every bit of strength he had to pull off the working he had in mind.  By the time he finished he was shaking like a leaf, but every trace of the cultists had sunken into the ground.

Anders helped him stagger back to the horses.  “What next, Red? Head north?”

Loki shook his head. “That was too easy. They must have sent the nomads they took prisoner ahead with the rest of their group.”

“A rescue then. Sounds like another job for the two-man wrecking crew.”

Loki smiled at the nickname Nox had given them. “Let’s move. If we hurry, we can catch them before daylight.”

<–Previous   –Beginning–  Next->

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Flash Fiction – River Run August 19, 2011

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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If all had gone well, Loki would have been home, and on a date with Nox.

Instead, he lay shivering in the cold embrace of a mountain stream. His shoulders were wedged between the roots of an overhanging tree, and he craned his neck to get a glimpse over the edge of the muddy bank. He could not see his pursuers, but the heat from their bodies shone clearly around the trees. New Dawn cultists were arrogant, never bothering to hide the energy they radiated. They were not quiet either, too used to their quarry being afraid of them. They wanted him to know they were coming for him. Stupid gits. He hunkered down and focused his will on the tiny casting marks scorched into the boles of the trees he had run past not ten minutes before.

Funny thing about pine trees, they don’t just burn – they explode.

A dozen trees went up in a hail of woody shrapnel, making the perfect cover for him.  Loki turned to the unconscious Storm kindred lying in the water next to him, and slung him over his shoulders with a grunt of effort.  Anders was no lightweight, and Loki had to draw on his secondary element, Earth, to put enough energy into his tired legs to run with the extra burden.  He splashed diagonally across the stream toward a low sand bar, staggered out and jogged into the forest beyond.

He and Anders had spent the last week quietly moving through the northernmost of his uncle’s territories, getting a feel for which of the nobles might jump ship and support Loki when he made his bid for the throne of Fire. Anders’ people were tired of martial law, and of having their loved ones dragged off by New Dawn agents at the slightest infraction. The Storm kin wanted their freedom back from the tyrant that had annexed their country.

Unfortunately, there was no way to know for certain who could be trusted. Loki doubted he would ever find out who had tipped off the local garrison to their presence.  They spent the next three days dodging patrols, but their luck ran out when a rock slipped out from under Ander’s feet and pitched the Storm kin head first into a gully. Loki spent the rest of the day carrying his friend and using every dirty trick he knew to try and throw off the pursuit.

The only good news was that the enemy thought they were hunting a pair of local dissidents. If the Morning Lord ever found out his nephew was in the area, he would wipe out every town they passed through just to make sure no-one would ever aid Loki again.

A pained groan came from the limp form he carried.  “Put me down, Red,” Anders wheezed. “Your shoulder is digging a hole in my stomach.”

“If you’d drink less, you wouldn’t have a gut to put holes in,” Loki said. He slid Anders off his shoulders, and sagged against a tree to catch his breath.

“It’s not a gut, you bastard, it’s left over insulation from all the time we spent freezing our asses off working for Lord Ice.” Anders swayed a little, but stayed upright. “Where are we?”

“Don’t know exactly. Just crossed a mid-sized stream, heading roughly north and west. Got a glimpse of mountains to the northeast a little while before that.”

“We’re in Duke Reed’s territory then. He’s friendly, if not quite willing to stand up to your uncle.”  He pointed to their left. “This way. Should be a river ahead. If we follow that a bit farther west, we can cut north again through Hail and Sleet’s territories to get back to Ice.”  He looked up sharply at a noise in the distance. “Are those hounds?”

Loki pushed off from the tree and stretched. “Damn. We’ve had no luck at all.”

“Sure we have. It’s just all been the bad kind.”

Another labored dash brought them to the edge of a river in full spate. Anders pointed to a tangle of downed timber. “We can lash a few of those together with our belts and float down river to lose the hounds.”

“This keeps getting better and better,” Loki said, giving the turbulent river a sour look.

“Nobody likes a whiner,” Anders quipped, though his voice was weak and his face drawn and pale.

Things went downhill from there. Loki couldn’t call on Earth while surrounded by water, and Fire would give their position away. Anders didn’t have enough strength to keep his head above water without Loki’s help. They shot downriver in a blur of fast moving water and aching cold. The last thing Loki remembered was a sharp impact as their raft hit a rock, and a last, desperate effort to hang on to Anders before the water claimed them.

Loki awoke to strong hands pulling him out of the water, and he coughed half the river out of his lungs. He found himself on a barge with one of the stolid, brown-haired River kin watching over him. Anders was sprawled out next to him.

The River kin gave him an appraising look. “You tha biggest feesh I evah caught, yah? Heh.”

It took Loki a minute to work through the man’s accent, which was as broad and rolling as the water he called home.  He chuckled and rubbed his aching neck. “No gills yet, though it’s not for lack of trying,”

“Hah! You big ‘uns, all right. Lotsa fussin’ bout you, Laird Dragon.”  He smiled at the wary look on Loki’s face. “River folk hear lots. Like mebbe young Fire Laird goan put things right down south. Bout time, I says.” He picked up a long pole and pushed the barge off from the river bank. “You trust ol’ Rill, he owes the Ice Lord plenty. Mebbe dis make it up.”

Loki shook his head. “Damn, does everyone owe Lucien a favor?”

Rill grinned. “Doan worry. I git you home.”

<–Previous   –Beginning–  Next->

This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Flash Fiction – Hel’s Own Hound August 12, 2011

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Ghosts gathered from every corner of the graveyard as Grimm padded out of his old mausoleum, though it wasn’t him they were there to see. Death walked amongst them, with Grimm as his proxy, to lead them all home.

The hound could hear Nox shouting somewhere behind him, but he couldn’t make out the words. Even the soul-bond they shared was muted by the presence within him.  He weaved through the gravestones, from one end of the cemetery to the other, with throngs of the dead following in his wake. At last he came to the gate and waited by its side, ears up and alert, while each ghost crossed through into the spirit realm. He followed last of all, and as he paced through the gate the world disappeared, and the Long Road stretched out before him.

The jagged edge of memory cut through a haze of forgetfulness, as it always did when he came back here. His whole life, the joy, pain, and sorrow settled in, but this time he remained a hound.  He guessed it was an unsubtle reminder that he had been neglecting his duties as Hel’s Hound, to spend more time with Nox.

Grimm took up his place at the Road’s beginning, nudging along any stragglers. That was his job, to send the unquiet dead to their rest when their time had come.  And when someone tried to cheat death, he took on the role of bounty hunter and sent them to their final judgment.

Case in point, the dark cloud gathering on the far side of the grey plains. The Shadowkin couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the ghosts floating down the road. If they got past Grimm, they would drain the ghosts dry of energy and become even more powerful.  They had yet to get by him, but he had always worn his old body before, and had armor and a broadsword to work with.

The Shadowkin crept closer, taking on the form of shadowy knights to mock him. Their armor dripped black ichor and their long black swords wept blood from the edges.  Grimm stood his ground, back paws tamping down as he prepared to launch himself at their throats. Armor or no armor, he would find a way to take them down.

Death drifted apart from him and stood by his side. He whispered one word: “Balance.”  Then he turned and drifted back down the Road, beyond the last gate and was gone.

Grimm had just spent time as a man in the mortal realms, so now he had to spend time here as a hound. Lucien had created an imbalance with his little experiment, and Grimm would pay the price.

Or would he?

Grimm could still feel the energy he had absorbed coursing through him like an electric pulse. It was something from the mortal realms, brought into the world of spirit through Death’s intervention. He howled in glee – his boss had just given him a weapon.

The sound ripped through his enemies like a scythe through wheat. The Shadowkin scattered, turning into gore crows, and Grimm howled up a hurricane to chase them from the skies.  They darted for the plains, and Grimm growled so low the earth opened up to swallow them. One by one he caught and broke them, and sent their souls wailing along the Road to its end.

The borrowed energy ran out before he could catch them all, but by the time he was done their numbers had been cut in half. They wouldn’t have the advantage over him anymore.  “Balance!” Grimm laughed, as he padded around the plains to make sure there weren’t any more hiding amidst the tall grasses.

He was never sure how he knew when it was time to go back to the mortal realms. He simply knew it, and followed the trail of his soul-bond back to Nox.

The sun was setting by the time he came back to the graveyard, painting the sky with crimson hues.  Nox sat on the doorstep of the mausoleum, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms around them.  She jumped up the second his paws touched the ground, and flung her arms around his neck.

“Grimm!  Are you okay? You’re not in trouble with Death, are you?  I’m so sorry, I had no idea my father was going to do that to you. I thought we were just going to study the symbols on your crypt,” she said, in her usual breathless manner.  She let him go and her expression turned fierce. “You can just bet I had words with him about that.”

The hound’s tongue lolled out in a doggy grin. He could just imagine his tiny friend haranguing Lucien. “I’m fine little one. No harm was done. My boss had a bit of work for me to do.”

She gave him a skeptical look. “Boss?  Not Master?  Death said you were his, like he owned you.”

“Technically, he owns us all if you think about it. Don’t worry about me. It’s really more of a business arrangement.” His grin grew even broader. “322 left.”

Her eyes widened. “You wiped out half of the Shadowkin?”

“Oh yes!  And now I feel like celebrating. I think there’s a steak with my name on it, somewhere.”

Nox let out an amused snort. “Now I know you’re okay. All right, you fuzzy glutton, let’s head back into town.  I’ve got a rain-check for my date with Loki anyway; he’s late getting back from his trip down south.”

“We’ll save him a doggy bag from our victory dinner.”

She groaned and rolled her eyes. “That’s a terrible pun!”

He let out a few whurfs of canine laughter and nudged open the cemetery gate for her.  “After you, short-stuff.”

“Hmph. I’m petite, dammit. PUH-TEET!”

Grimm snickered. She glared. It lasted for about two seconds until they both started laughing.

Nox gave him another hug. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“So am I, little one.”

<–Previous   –Beginning–  Next->

Just a note on a few changes – I’ve decided to move the weekly ‘about’ message to the bottom of the story as a subscript, mostly to allow feeds & shares to read the first paragraph instead of the standard, ‘this story is part of a series’ note.  Also, I changed the ending on last week’s episode. Got some very helpful feedback that gave me ideas to give it more punch.  I always appreciate your comments, and can’t thank you all enough for them!


This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Flash Fiction – Sow the Wind August 5, 2011

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Nox stood with her hands on her hips and stared up at the imposing granite mausoleum. Her father stood next to her, his arms crossed. They both had matching frowns on their faces.

“You really can’t see the markings around the door?” she said.

“No, but I believe you,” Lucien said. “I am simply annoyed at finding an artifact of this magnitude hiding on my front lawn.”

Nox smirked. “Yes, well, normal families don’t have tombstones in their yard. Flowers, maybe. Lights. Lawn gnomes…”

He chuckled quietly at that. “I suppose you have a point. Our ancestor left us more than a few peculiar heirlooms.”  He ran a hand over the cold, heavy stones that framed in the door. “Your mother has a saying – Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Shall we summon Air, and see what the wind brings to us?”

“Oh no,” Nox said. “You’re not actually going to power this thing up again?”

“I see no other way to study it.”

“Yeah, but isn’t that what killed Galen?” she said, suddenly worried.

Lucien gave her shoulder a squeeze.  “Have a little faith, daughter.”

He made a quick gesture, and a blast of icy winter air blew down the front of the mausoleum. The casting marks lit up, and the energy rolled through them sluggishly.  He filled the chamber inside with a cool mist, and they watched as the jets of Air left contrails as they shot around the room. “The precision of the markings is quite impressive. I can see why you wanted to learn more about them.”

“I calculated the rate of power amplification,” she said, warming to the topic as her curiosity won out over caution.  “That kind of energy could knock the top off a mountain!”

“It would certainly put you on an even footing with the Lords of the other Great Houses,” he said, his voice echoing around the chamber as he walked inside. “Ah.”

“Ah, what?  Don’t hold out on me!” Nox said.

“I know what this does,” he said, and walked slowly around the crypt. “You will note that I used a cold wind to start the casting. Ice slows down Air, and keeps it from gaining too much momentum.  I will have to remove it to allow the casting to do its work. Please stay outside.”  He made another quick gesture, and the energy built up at a terrifying rate. The symbol at the far end of the mausoleum crackled into life, and he braced himself to ground the energy.

Nox cried out a warning as the light shot out at him – and went straight into Grimm.

The hound appeared a second before it would have struck her father. Grimm’s outline began to waver, and slowly reformed into the vague shape of a man in battered plate armor. His scarred face was twisted in rage, and his hands balled into fists.  “Lucien you IDIOT!  I sent her to you in hopes you would stop this madness!”

Lucien narrowed his eyes at the insult. “So, I finally get to meet the man my daughter has risked her soul for.”

“Let me go, Lucien.  You are messing with forces you do not understand!”

“I think I have a fairly clear idea.”

Grimm shuddered, his form flickering wildly between hound and man. “I cannot hold this forever!”

Lucien leaned forward. “If it was my daughter standing here, would you have such problems, I wonder?”

“I like her better than you,” Grimm snarled.

He gave his former servant a cold smile. “If you dislike me so intensely, then I give you permission to hit me, this once. No repercussions.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Coward,” Lucien said, and slapped him as if he were reprimanding one of his soldiers.

“Ohh, you asked for it!”  Grimm swung a haymaker at Lucien, but his arm was pulled up short. Chains ran from his wrists to the floor, where they merged into the glowing symbols that filled the room. “What in Hel’s name is this?” he said.

“Proof that my theory was correct,” Lucien said, and glanced over his shoulder at Nox. “Galen was a father, before all else.  When the war broke out, his first move was to hide his wife and children. When the Shadowkin made you their weapon, he took you back from them, because he knew his loved ones would be the first targets they sent you to kill.” Lucien turned back to Grimm.  “And when he failed to free you from your curse, he gave his life to make sure you could never raise a hand against his family.”

Grimm stared at the chains.  “Why don’t I remember any of this?”

“You could not break the chains if you did not know they were there,” Lucien said. “Take comfort in the fact that your liege did not die in vain, and that it was not by your hand.”  He pointed to a new symbol that started to glow near Grimm’s hand. “Release the energy there, and we will see what else Galen had planned for you.”

Grimm started to comply, but he stopped mid-motion. His mouth opened and a sound came out, so profound that it shook them to their core, and somewhere within it came a Voice. “Do not tamper with my hound,” it said.

The casting shattered. Grimm shifted back to a hound and shouldered past Lucien, but stopped in front of Nox.

Tears of frustration ran down her face. “I can’t help Grimm if I don’t understand what was done to him!”

The hound gave her a look that was somewhere between compassion and pity. “Perhaps you will help him, someday. But not like this,” said the Voice, and the hound disappeared.

“Oh great,” Nox said, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “Now Death is using Grimm like a sock puppet.” She glared up at the sky and screamed, “He’s not yours, dammit!  He doesn’t belong to anyone! Am I the only person in this whole damned world that realizes owning someone is wrong?”

She ignored her father’s startled look, sat on the doorstep of the mausoleum, and pulled out her notes. “Might as well write down what little we saw of the casting marks, while it’s still fresh in our minds,” she said, with a disgusted sigh.  “Maybe today won’t be a complete loss, then.”


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