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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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Comments»

1. Julie (O-kami) - January 28, 2012

ooo – the plot thickens and thickens

techtigger - January 29, 2012

hehehe – I thought it was about time we got a little insight into Serenna. No one starts out a villain, right? 😀


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