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Flash Fiction – A Game of Chess, Part 3 – A King In Check January 28, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Lucien had known for some time that all was not well in his home. He could feel it in the air, a subtle taint that had crept in and lay hidden deep within the ancient mansion. The main corridors were safe – his boots rang in clear tones on the cold marble floors, and the ice sculptures that hung down in crystalline cascades still sang in harmony with the voices of his people. But the echoes came back distorted, a warning as certain as an alarm bell that something, somewhere had gone terribly wrong.

He had searched everywhere, in every room from the highest attic to the lowest cellar. Every place but one.

His wife’s suite was up several flights of stairs, and overlooked the great hall.  Lucien hesitated outside the door, his heart leaden within his chest. There was no doubt now that Serenna was behind the attacks. It was only a matter of finding out why.

The wards on the door were unlocked, and a frown creased his brow as he entered. Serenna was never that careless. The room looked undisturbed, filled with all the pretty feminine things his wife kept about her; soft blankets on a rocking chair and a sewing kit beside it, flowers and perfume bottles on the dresser.  The next room held her library, and a small table where she prepared her healing crystals. Beyond that, the door to her work room was unlocked, and he could see a dim light spilling out through a gap where it had not quite been shut.

Lucien hesitated again, his instincts warning him to use caution. A smell of dried herbs and incense wafted out, along with a musty hint of rot that undercut their more delicate scent. A moment’s thought let him place the smell – moldy leaves, like those on a forest floor.

The forest kin were seldom seen, and almost never left their homes. To have one set up shop here, in the midst of all this cold stone was unheard of. And yet, twice now there had been plant based attacks in his home. He studied the doorway, but there were no obvious signs of malign enchantments.

If someone was inside and had already prepared a trap, he saw no point in making a stealthy entrance. Chill energy wrapped around him as he blew the door open.

No cries came from inside, and he strode into a room coated with frost. Smoking candles were scattered about the floor, knocked from their candelabras by the icy wind. A summoning ring was set into the floor, and in its center lay a small, twisted branch covered with casting marks. Lucien knelt beside the ring, careful not to cross it. Foul energies spilled out from the circle, uncontained in any way. He leaned over to look underneath the branch. Roots shot down into the flagstones. They had caused hairline fractures to spread out to the edges, breaking the protective ring. He stood up quickly, and turned to the small lectern behind him. Serenna’s day journal was laid out, open and unlocked, just as the door to the workroom had been.

Lucien glanced back at the branch.  His enemy was taunting him with the answers he sought. He weighed the danger against the need to know what his wife had summoned, but in the end, there was no other option.

The first entry had been made twenty one years ago, just before his wife had become pregnant with Nox.

“Three sons I have buried, their tiny bodies returned to the earth without ceremony. Luc and I did not wish to share our grief. More and more, I realize that I have failed my husband. He does not speak of it, but I know the miscarriages have affected him as much as they did me. The heart is willing, but the body is weak. A human was not meant to bear the child of an elemental.”

Lucien paused with his hand hovering over the next page. The jaws of the trap were closing. This was how the enemy would break him, then. Not with swords or spells, but with the words of his own beloved wife. They knew him too well. He had to read on. He had to know how he had lost her. The words seemed to reach out from the pages, and hold his heart in an iron grip.

“Merciful mother of God, watch over me. I am with child again, but it is too soon, too soon since my last little boy was laid to rest. I have not recovered, and I fear I will lose this baby as well. I am so cold…”

“I awoke this morning to find my husband asleep in the chair next to me, still holding my hand. The days pass by in a blur of agony and ice. My daughter chills my womb in her fierce struggle to live, but I cannot give her what she needs. I do not wish to see his noble line die like this, wasting away along with a wife who is unfit to bear his children. I have begged him to put me aside, to take a wife from his own people, but he will not listen. The dear, stubborn fool still holds out hope for us.”

“God in heaven, I have Ice in my veins. I feel it running through me, and all my world has gone cold and dark. My daughter thrives; even now I can feel her playful kicks in my belly. Luc will not say what he has done, only that I should never speak of it. I should be joyful, I will live. And yet, there is only hate in my heart. I do not know if I hate him more for this blasphemous thing he has done to save my life, or for waiting so long to try it. Our sons might have lived.”

Lucien paused there, his shoulders bowed beneath the weight of his grief. He had almost lost them both, and in desperation he had done the unthinkable. Lord Galen had banned the technique of healing with an aura graft for good reason. Lucien had been a fool to think he could make it work.  He had given Serenna a piece of himself, never thinking how traumatic it would be for her to lose a piece of her humanity in exchange. All he had cared about was keeping her and the baby alive.

He forced himself to read on. If she had lived with this for twenty one years, he could at least bear witness to the price she paid for his folly.

“Tragedy. Kyrios and Eva, killed along with their youngest son. Poor Cole, orphaned and alone, not even able to keep his own name for fear of his murderous uncle finding him. I suggested that he call himself Loki, after a spirit of fire and chaos from my home world. His plight weighs on me – how easy would it be for my own child to share his fate? I must protect Nox. Five years ago my husband delved into the heart of darkness to find a way to save us. Can I do any less?”

“I have found the answer. A spirit, imprisoned in the woods near the graves of my sons. She says that she was wrongfully accused of a crime. I do not entirely trust her, but she has knowledge I need. And perhaps, being a woman, she will have sympathy for what I plan to do. A mother’s instinct resides in all women.”

The rest of the journal was a slow, steady descent into madness as the spirit laid its hooks into her. Details of everything Serenna had done to their daughter was there, laid out in harsh, clinical terms. It was a miracle that Nox had survived at all. Lucien sank down into a chair that sat next to the lecturn. He let the journal dangle from his fingers, and covered his face with the other hand.

Inside the broken summoning circle, the leaves on the branch began to rustle. A mocking voice whispered, “What have we here? The Lord of Ice and Air, contemplating his many sins. Does the crown weigh heavy on your brow, oh chief of the Winter Kings?”

Lucien sat up slowly and set the book aside. “What do you want, Shadowkin?”

“Ooh, what a clever boy you are,” the voice said. “Shall we dance some more, my pretty prince? I have so enjoyed watching you chase my shadows. But oh, so sad, you never saw who cast them. You should have listened to your daughter.”

Energy flowed in from every corner of the mansion as Lucien gathered up his will for lethal strike.

“Ah, ah,” the voice chided. “I have your wife. And she, silly creature, has plans for your daughter. Can you afford to ignore her any longer?”

He did not let the energy go, holding it ready around his fists. “I assume you have demands?”

“Oh my, how deliciously forceful you are. You act so cold, but I know better. Your wife has been a treasure trove of information about you.”  When he did not respond, the voice turned petulant. “It’s no fun if you don’t play the game. Very well then, we will play it your way. Come to the blasted oak – you know the one – three days hence. Alone. Or the next time you see your dear wife, it will be across your daughter’s corpse.”

Lucien’s expression was frozen, unreadable. “I will be there.”


<–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.

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Flash Fiction – A Game of Chess, Part 2 – Queen’s Gambit January 23, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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2 comments

The fading sunlight was reflected in a thousand pieces of shattered glass. Water dripped from ice covered upholstery as the warm evening breeze passed through the empty windows of the solarium. And in the midst of the devastation, Nox stood with her arms wrapped around herself. “I think mother just tried to kill me.”

Lucien frowned as he studied the vines that had attacked her. They were still encased in ice, held motionless by his will. “Nonsense. Your mother would never cast a spell that would harm you. Someone else must be behind this attack.”

“Oh really?” Nox said, scowling at him. “Have you forgotten that she’s the one who crippled my ability to channel the elements?”

Lucien’s frown deepened. “We have discussed this. It will take time for her to devise a way to safely remove that spell.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, open your eyes!” Nox said, gesturing angrily at the vines. “She has no time for that, but apparently she has plenty of time to find new ways to wipe me out.”

Lucien turned to give her a quelling look.  “These vines were created by a forest kindred. No human can make elemental castings, as you well know.”

“She can work with an accomplice,” Nox spat back.

The crunch of footsteps on ice caused them both to turn around, only to see the focus of their argument standing in the doorway.

“What have you done to my solarium!” Serenna said.

“I’m fine mother, thanks for asking,” Nox replied, bitterly.

Serenna ignored the comment and swept into the room on a tide of self-righteous fury. “You used technomancy to unlock the book, didn’t you?”

Nox bristled at the accusation. “It would have taken weeks to remove the locking spell using sorcery, and I still would have set off that secondary enchantment.”

Serenna jabbed her finger into Nox’s chest. “So you admit that you knew how to safely remove the lock, but you took the easy way out?”

“Don’t you dare try to blame this on me,” Nox said. “I could have been killed, you sick, evil, twisted…”

Lines of acid green energy twined around Serenna’s hands. “Watch your tongue, daughter, or I will give you a lesson you will not soon forget.” She rounded on her husband. “I blame you for this, Luc. You have indulged her whims, and now we are left with a willful, spiteful child.”

The look Lucien turned on his wife was cold, and unforgiving. “No more ‘lessons’, Serenna.”

She sneered up at him. “No more lessons. I forbid this. I command that. How easy for you to toss out orders. Well, you ordered me to train our daughter, and I will do it as I see fit.”

She shoved past him and slashed her hand downwards. The vines crumbled, and the binding on the book bubbled up and melted away, leaving only scorched pages behind. “You will read this young lady, and master every spell inside.”

A cold, sick feeling settled into the pit of Nox’s stomach as she watched her mother do the impossible; if Serenna could control the elements, then she was no longer completely human.  The truly terrifying part was imagining who could be strong enough to alter her, without her husband noticing.

Lucien must have been following the same train of thought. Nox had never seen him look so shaken. “We will discuss this later, ‘Renna,” he said. “For now, I think it is best if Nox returned to her duties.”

Serenna’s eyes narrowed.  “Of course, Luc. Don’t we always do as you command?”  She gave the room one last, scornful look. “You have a whole outpost full of Fire kindreds at your disposal, daughter. Find one to repair the glass.”

Nox and Lucien both watched in silence as Serenna left. Nox finally cleared her throat and said, “We are in deep sheep dip.”

“That is an understatement,” Lucien replied, still staring at the empty doorway. “I tell your mother everything.”

The sick feeling in Nox’s stomach turned into an icy lump as the implications of that sunk in. “Oh, crud. If someone has gotten to mother, then every one of our defenses has been compromised.”

Lucien looked sharply at her. “All of them…where is Grimmalkyn?”

“He was just here,” Nox said. She sent out a silent call through the soul-bond she shared with the guardian, but all she got in return was an echo of her own thoughts. “He’s gone!”

—–

Elsewhere in the mansion, Serenna pitted her will against the creature held within her summoning circle. “Your plan failed, Katya. I had to damage a valuable spell book to cover up the mess you made. Not to mention alienating my husband. You will not overstep your bounds again.”

The lovely forest kindred gave her a petulant look. “You asked me to distract the guardian, and I have done so. Even if your daughter calls, Grimmalkyn will not be able to answer. One wonders why I bother to do so much on your behalf, when I get so little thanks.”

“You bother because I order you to,” Serenna snapped, and hoped that it was still true. The creature had proven incredibly difficult to control. She brushed her worries aside – it would all be over soon, and then she could banish Katya to the depths of Hel. “Right now, the only thing I require of you is to keep Grimmalkyn busy while I finish the work on my daughter.”

Katya gave her a graceful curtsy. “That I will do, with pleasure.”  She turned away, but paused before disappearing. “You do realize that the lifespan of our kind is measured by the amount of the elements we control. You are about to cut your daughter’s life disastrously short.”

Serenna shrugged. “A human’s life may be extended by the use of spells. Once the taint of the elements is removed, Nox can cast the same spells I use.”

“Is she human enough to survive the cleansing?”

“I will make her so,” Serenna said.

A cruel smile crossed Katya’s face. “Very good, poppet. I always knew you had the makings of a Shadowkin.”

“Begone!” Serenna cried, but the creature only laughed as it faded away.

(to be continued!)


<–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 – A Game of Chess, Part 1 – Two Knights Defense January 13, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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6 comments

Helloooo Nox and Grimm readers!  🙂  Today we pick up the story where we left off in episode 94: Only Human

————————————————————————————-

The setting sun stretched long shadows across the floor of the solarium, and painted the walls with splashes of red and gold. The servants had long since cleared away the remains of dinner and left Nox to wait for her father, with only Grimm for company.

The hound sniffed at the small, leather bound tome lying on the table in front of Nox. The enchantments laid on it were so thick it made him sneeze.  He backed away and shook himself hard enough to send bits of his shaggy fur flying.  “Your mother is a sadist. No woman should put their child through something like this.”

A half-smile twisted the corner of Nox’s mouth. “Look on the bright side, I’ve already found a way to circumvent her ugly little lesson. That should piss her off to no end.” She carefully sat down a small glass bottle next to the book, just as a jolt of energy sizzled between the book and her hand, standing her hair on end. “Ow-Ow-OW-Dangit!” she said, shaking her stinging fingers.  “Well, at least it zaps me at regular intervals. I can work in between them.”  She took the stopper from the bottle, and drew a tiny amount of liquid into the attached eyedropper.

An acrid smell drifted up from the bottle, and Grimm backed away another step.  “What is that?”

“Acid. One drop of this should force the spells that preserve the paper from damage to kick in, and return the book to its original state.”  She looked up at the water clock on the wall, and checked how many seconds she had until the next jolt. “All right, you nasty old hag, it’s time for your little game to end.”

Nox squeezed the stopper. A single of drop of acid hit the book, and lay there shimmering in the sunlight. A wisp of smoke curled up as it started to eat into the binding. Then it exploded in a blast of green light, throwing her across the room.

Grimm just barely got behind her in time, and grunted as she thumped into his side. Nox wheezed as the air got knocked out of her.

“Are you all right?” Grimm rumbled.

She reached up to give the hound a pat on his shoulder. “Fine. Nice catch, furball.”

He let out an amused snort. “I was expecting it. You blow things up with alarming regularity.”

“I know. Just think of how dull your life would be without me around!” she said, with an impish grin. “C’mon, let’s see what’s left of the book.”

“It would be a shame if it were ruined. It looked very old.”

“Better it than me,” Nox said.  She whistled a small Air casting to clear away the cloud of fumes around it. To her surprise, the book looked entirely unharmed.  She glanced up at the clock, but the time for another jolt had already passed. “Well, what do you know, it actually worked!”

Grimm sniffed at it, and sneezed again. “Do not celebrate yet, short-stuff. It still does not smell right.”

“Layered spells? That’s new for her.”

“It is not a human spell. Look for casting marks on the book before you open it.”

Nox raised an eyebrow. “Since when do the elements make you sneeze?”

“Your mother had something to do with it,” Grimm said, still eyeing the book warily. “Anything she works on gives me fits.”

“Hold on, I think I have a set of magnifying glasses with me.” Nox rummaged through her pockets and pulled out a small pair of round, wire-rimmed glasses.  She breathed on the lenses, cleaned them with a corner of her shirt and perched them on the end of her nose.  “You’re right, these are marks for controlling plants. I don’t recognize the maker; it’s not someone from House Flora. Their style is more ornate, lots of curvy lines and curlicues.”

“Let me see,” Grimm said, and Nox held the glasses up to his eye. “The style is very old. Either your mother dug up a scholar, or she’s been rummaging around in your father’s library.”

“She can’t create elemental castings. No full human can, or so she claims.”

“She can hire someone,” Grimm said, and sneezed again.

“Ooh, careful!” Nox said, as the glasses went flying.

The instant the glasses touched the book, the casting marks on the cover flared into life. Writhing tendrils of energy burst outwards toward them, and Grimm howled, surrounding Nox in a sonic shield.  A flash of electric blue light filled the room as she added her own aura shield to bolster it. The vines slashed at their defenses with a mindless ferocity, and a sticky, corrosive sap started to ooze over their combined shield, burning holes in it.

Grimm grabbed Nox by the back of her shirt and shoved her underneath him.  “Don’t let them touch you!” he cried, grunting as one of the vines cut through the shield and burned a strip of fur off his back.  The two of them slowly edged away from the book, but the vines kept growing.  “Ice, use ice on them!”

Nox reached out in desperation for the one source that could generate enough pure elemental Ice to freeze the vines.  Down in the main hall, she could sense the brass hoops of the great Weather scope start to move, sluggish and heavy. “Please, let it work this time!” She threw her will against it, trying to find the strength to move the ancient artifact and summon the winter winds.

The weather scope turned once, twice… and stopped.

The hound shoved her into a corner, and covered her with his own body. “Try again! Drop your shield, it is draining too much energy from you.”

“Those vines will tear you to pieces!”

“I cannot die, dammit! Do it!”

Nox threw her will into it again. The weather scope shifted, stopped, started again, and lurched for a few turns. She hurled every scrap of energy she had left at it in a defiant scream…

And the winds came. The doors to the room blew off their hinges from the force of the gale that hit them. It howled into the room, and buried everything in a thick layer of ice, stopping the vines in their tracks.

Nox huddled beneath Grimm, and she could feel him shuddering from the cold and his wounds. For a brief moment, Nox thought she had actually managed to use the artifact. Then her father broke through the ice that encased them. “I knew it was too good to be true,” she sighed.

Lucien knelt beside them, worry etching deep lines in his face. “Are you all right?”

Nox nodded slowly, weary to the bones. “I’m fine. Grimm got the worst of it. Please make sure he’s okay.”

The hound faded out, but his rumbling voice still lingered in their minds. “If there is one thing you can be sure of, it is that I will endure. I just won’t be able to materialize for a while.”

Lucien helped Nox to her feet. “Who cast that spell?”

Nox looked around in wide-eyed dismay at the shattered remains of the room. “Mother. I think she just tried to kill me…”

(to be continued!)


<–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.

Bookmarket Twitterview January 3, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction, interview, writing.
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Just got #twitterviewed by the lovely host of the #bookmarket chat, @claudiac!  We talked about web serials, publishing, Nox and Grimm and my dislike of moping vampires 😉  If you missed it, you can check out the transcripts here:

twitterview transcripts

 

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