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A Game of Chess – Endgame, Page 4 February 29, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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(the Nox and Grimm episode 100 short story continues!)

It took most of the night for the Shadowkin to recover from the damage the ghost knight inflicted on them. They had not had a body for a long time, and needed to search the memories of all the hundreds of spirits to remember how to heal themselves. But the body they had stolen from Grimmalkyn had power and physical strength to spare, and soon enough they were back on the hunt.

“Clever Katya,” one of them hissed. “She finally found a way to break the protective markings Galen placed on the guardian.”

“What a pity we can’t be there to watch as his soul wastes away, bereft of its housing.”

“Hush,” another warned, “we are too close to the girl, do not give away the game.”

The hound loped through dust filled halls and bounded over piles of rubble, steadily making its way to the castle’s heart. They lifted its muzzle to the air, tasting the wind for any sign of the girl, but all they could smell was the scent of grave dust and ancient bones. The spirits howled in frustration, and started to argue amongst themselves.

“The ghosts have hidden her, covered her trail.”

“Find one of them, make them talk.”

“No, they would only destroy themselves like the last one.”

“Then if we cannot go to her, she must come to us.”

“Yes! Lure her out, Jagur.”

The hound crouched down in a dark corner while they handed over control of the body. Jagur had the deepest voice, and could mimick Grimmalkyn’s rumbling bass. He added a hint of a pained whine to the sending. “Help…me…please…Nox…help me…”

The sound was so pathetic they nearly choked with laughter. “Again, Jagur,” they whispered, urging him on.

“Please…so tired…need you…”

A sleepy answer came from the girl.

“zzz…????…!!!!… I’m coming! Hold on!”

The call gave them a clearer direction and they ran through the castle, jaws agape with unholy glee.

“Hurry Nox…please…”

A sharp sense of dread woke Grimm from his stupor. He found himself sitting with his head hanging down on his chest. He vaguely remembered stumbling through a dark, clinging fog for what seemed like hours, lost in some obscure corner of the spirit realm.

He rubbed at his chest, trying to ease the nagging ache that had plagued him since arriving. He added it to the growing list of anomalies; as usual, he had changed back from a hound into a man as soon as he crossed the threshold, but his armor was gone and could not be called to him. Numerous attempts to summon his sword had failed as well. He could not even tell what direction the Long Road lay in. He took another look around, but there were no landmarks. “I am Hel’s servant, for goodness sake,” he said. “I can’t get lost here.”

Reality seemed determined to ignore his complaint, however. Fatigue dragged his head down again, until his chin rested on his chest and his eyelids drooped shut.

“Get up.”

Another jolt of dread shot through him. Grimm peered up through bleary eyes at the apparition standing over him. “Oh, great. Now I’m hallucinating.”

A younger version of himself gave him a reproving look.  “Hel of a time to take a nap, Grey,” he said.

Grimm stifled a yawn. “No, I’m Grimm now. Let’s call you Grey. Too confusing otherwise.  And I haven’t been able to rest in millennia, I’ve earned it.”

“Don’t you feel that? You need to get out of here.”

Grimm snorted, rubbing at his aching chest. “Tell me how to get out and I’ll go.” He looked Grey up and down, comparing him with his own battered, scarred visage. The lines of age and hardship were missing from Grey’s face, and his hair was solid black. He even stood a little straighter, his shoulders unbowed. “Hmph. The years have not been kind to me,” Grimm said.

Grey hunkered down so that his face was an inch away from Grimm’s.  “You once told Loki that the dead are as they remember themselves to be. And we used to be quite the handsome devil, back in the day. Think about it.”

“I don’t remember being such a cryptic pain in the ass,” Grimm grumbled. “How exactly does that tell me how to get out of here?”

Grey smiled. “You tell me.”

Grimm growled at him, but was too tired to argue. “You’re saying I’ve changed. The dead don’t change. Hunh. Are you trying to say that I never died?”

Grey pointed to his nose. “Got it in one. Of course, you won’t live much longer if you stay here. A living soul without a body doesn’t fare too well. Speaking of bodies,” he said, “what are you going to do about Nox, if and when you get your real shape back in the mortal realms?”

Grimm leveled a cold glare at him. “Do not even finish that thought.”

“Too late. I’m you, and you already went there. You said it yourself, you’re not dead yet, old boy.”

“She is a girl–“

“—a grown woman. One you admire. I’m just saying, if you were still my age, you’d be giving Loki a run for his money.”

Grimm launched himself at Grey, knocking them both to the ground. He held his younger self pinned by the throat, one arm cocked back in a fist. “You shut your damned mouth!”

Grey coughed and wrestled him back. “Well, this takes beating yourself up to a new level.”

Grimm landed a solid punch on him. “You are not me. You are some trick that the Shadowkin are playing.”

A third version of himself, slightly older, showed up. “I am afraid you are wrong there. Let him go, he’s just your impulsive side. You almost never listen to him, with good reason. He has no conscience or honor. But he does make a good point every now and again. Your heart got you into this mess, and it may give you troubles again.”

He reached down and pulled Grimm away from his impulsive side. “I can help with that. I’m your rational side.”

A third, even older version appeared. “You’ll need me as well. I am your ideals, your conscience. And I am about to take quite a beating, if we follow your rational side’s plan.”

Grimm sat down again, shaking his head. “Bloody Hel, whatever Katya coated those vines with has sent me on major bender.”

His rational side nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, Katya. She is the one we should focus on. You do realize that she is one of the hundreds of Shadowkin spirits you have left to deal with, right? If you ever want to be free, you are going to have to kill her.”

His conscience winced. “To be fair, unlike us she is already dead. We would only be doing our duty as the Hel’s servant by moving her on down the Long Road.”

His impulsive side brushed himself off and stood up, working his jaw back and forth. “Who says he never listens to me – that hurt! But we can’t kill Katya, we still have feelings for her, don’t we?”

“Would you all shut up for a minute?” Grimm said, and staggered to his feet, swaying unsteadily. The ache in his chest returned and grew more pronounced, and he felt a prickling sensation in his fingertips as he ran his hand over it. He had a sudden flashback to Katya, mocking him and running her hands over his chest. Anger gave him the strength to stand straight. “That bitch! She drew a casting mark on me!”

His impulsive side grinned. “Okay, maybe not.”

Grimm started tearing at the edges of the mark. He could see it now, ugly green glowing lines looped around his chest like strangling vines.  He got an edge free, and ripped the casting off all at once. An explosion of energy tore through him, dropping him to his knees, but his head immediately cleared. The dark fog faded into the more familiar landscape around the Long Road, and he could hear Nox’s distant thoughts. She sounded frantic.

“I’m coming! Hold on!” she said.

“Oh no,” he groaned. “My body is there– and the Shadowkin are controlling it.” Grimm gathered what strength he had left and staggered back down the path to the mortal realms. “Don’t go, little one! Don’t trust them!”

The three sides of him called out. “Wait, we need to plan!”  “Go, man, Go!”  “Do your duty, sir!”

“Shut up, damn you,” Grimm grumbled, and they disappeared.

He could see where he was going now, but it was hard to move. Without a body, he was constantly battered by the endless tide that swept souls down the Road to their final rest. Only his soul-bond to Nox kept him from taking that final journey, but he felt like a kite in a gale. She was in danger though, and nothing would keep him from getting to her side.  “I’m coming, little one. Hold on!”


<–Page 3   –BeginningPage 5 ->

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Episode 100 Bonus – World Building February 28, 2012

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Titles and Politics

As any of you who have been reading Nox and Grimm know, I’ve done a fair bit of world building over the past few years, and I thought it would be fun to take a look at the murky world of politics in the elemental realms. It may not always be readily apparent in the episodes, but everything my characters do is informed by their rank, and the political pressures that come with it. So let’s take a closer look at titles for the main characters, to give a bit of insight into what makes them tick.

Titles are everything in this world. They can tell you volumes about a person’s social status, and they are where a lot of the tension springs from. Note – The only titles that truly matter are Lord or Lady, followed by the name of their House.  This designates the ruler, and their heir apparent. Anything else is either a nickname, or a sinecure handed to them by their liege-lord.

For example – Lucien is Lord Ice.  He rules the House of Ice, one of the most powerful of the ‘Great Houses’ in the realms. He is also called the Battle King, or one of the Winter Kings, but these are just nicknames he’s earned.  Despite being Galen’s descendant, he makes no claim to Winds, since it is forbidden to rule more than one House.

Nox is a bit more complicated. She goes alternately by Lady Ice (as Lucien’s heir-apparent), or is also called Lady Nox, because her position is somewhat nebulous, due to being half-human. She is also now Lady Zephyr, as titular heir to the House of Winds.  It is an old title, from before the Great Houses were established.  If she ever does re-establish the House of Winds as its ruler, the modern equivalent will be Lady Winds, or Lady Air, depending on what is confirmed. Zephyr will become a nickname. Of course, that’s only if she chooses Air over Ice. (can’t rule both)

The same goes for Lord Kel – he does not get to call himself Lord Ice, because he was adopted into the House to secure an alliance, nothing more. He was for a time betrothed to Nox, but again, it was only to facilitate an alliance between Ice and Snow. He was basically going to be a trophy husband, a fact that caused more than a little resentment in him, and is the source of he and Nox butting heads, even now that they are no longer to be married.

Loki is another person with an ambiguous set of titles.  He was Lord Loki, for lack of anyone knowing what to call him. Then he became Lord Dragon – but not Lord Fire.  He uses his father’s nickname because Kyrios was murdered before getting a chance to confirm his son as successor. None of his father’s vassals have recognized him, nor has he been confirmed in his title by the Convocation (more on them later).  All anyone has is Loki’s word that he is indeed Kyrios’ eldest son, and he has the dragon mark.  Ergo, he will be Lord Dragon until his position becomes settled.

Serenna is another odd case – being a human from a sister dimension to this one, the only title she could claim was Foreign Ambassador, and that title followed her when she married Lucien. She will never be in the line of succession for Ice, and can only act as an ambassador for Lucien when dealing with other Houses. He must ratify everything she does.

So, confused yet? Don’t worry, it gets worse! *lol* I made these relationships convoluted on purpose, to provide an endless source of conflict in the series.

Let’s move on to Vassals, and the Convocation.

The myriad of other titles you see, Baron, Duke, March Warden, etc. belong to nobles who hold fealty to one of the Great Houses.  Some are called Lords as well, but if they do, it’s only because their liege-lord allowed them to keep the title.  Lucien has wisely done this, and the Lords Hail, Sleet and Frost are some of the minor Houses that owe fealty to him.

Storms is a bit messier, but that mess is crucial to the series.  They were for a long time a bunch of petty warring nobles, each with their own tiny bailiwick, and they made up whatever title was grand enough to suit their ego.  Rhianna came along, backed by Lucien, and beat the snot out them and forced them to name her Queen. Since none of them held enough territory to be a House, she only gave them the titles of Duke, Baron, etc. Needless to say, this caused a lot of ugly tensions – they want from Grand High Poobah to Duke #535 out of 1000. This led directly to her downfall, at the very beginning of the series.

Now we come to the Convocation.  It is made up of the rulers of every House, and they meet at the turn of each season to discuss treaties, trade agreements, settle legal grievances and handle any other bit of business that crosses territory lines.  They also ratify any appointment of heirs to the Houses – technically, each ruler’s word is law in their own territory, but let’s face it – it’s a global economy, and they have to work with the other Lords and Ladies. So getting confirmed means they have a seat on the Convocation, and can do business.

By not allowing her vassals to be Lords or have the status of a House, Queen Rhianna cut out all of her nobility from the Convocation and set herself up as their lone voice.  When she was deposed (read here, murdered) it left a huge power vacuum. None of the petty nobles had enough power to take control or rate a seat on the Convocation.  The Morning Lord took advantage of this – he claimed some obscure connection to the House, and set himself up as the Protectorate until such time as a clear claim to the throne could be established.  Needless to say, he is fomenting all sorts of strife and in-fighting to make sure that never happens, leaving Storms at his mercy.  Since they have no voice on the Convocation, they can’t fight his control of the territory, and it is currently under martial law, “for the security of the people in unsettled times.”

Okay, I think that’s enough politics for one day. I hope that helped give you some insight into Nox’s world, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I’m always happy to talk shop! 🙂

-Angie

Episode 100 Bonus – Character Sketches February 28, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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So, here we have my attempts at drawing two of the main characters – Loki and Nox.  I won’t be quitting my day job, but they’re not half bad 😉

Loki - Sketch by Angie Capozello

A Game of Chess – Endgame, Page 3 February 27, 2012

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(the Nox and Grimm episode 100 short story continues!)

Nox nibbled on a piece of biscuit as she worked through the stack of books piled in front of her. The ghosts of the Wind Knights had been sneaking bits of food and other supplies into Galen’s lab, always careful to cover their tracks to keep her location secret. She had fresh water from a spring that welled up in one corner, and a glass beaker held over a small burner had been pressed into use for brewing coffee. There was even a water closet hidden neatly behind the wooden paneling that lined one wall.

“I’ve got everything I need, except more time,” she muttered.

Evan hovered by her elbow. “Pardon me, milady?”

Nox rubbed at her tired eyes. “It’s nothing. Just trying to figure out how I’m going to shove two centuries of Galen’s knowledge into my head in a mere two days. I mean, look at this,” she said, pointing to a list of casting marks on the latest book she had open. “I don’t even recognize half of these. I can’t tell you what element they represent, and the stuff I do recognize is being used in ways I’d never have dreamed of. I’ve got the answers to questions I haven’t even thought of yet,” she said, with a chagrined sigh.

Evan leaned over her shoulder and ran a translucent finger along the list. “I wonder, could this be part of his research? Before the war with the Shadowkin began, he had been working on a theory of universal exchange between the elements. He believed that they all came from a common source, and that with the proper symbols that primal energy could be harnessed by anyone, regardless of what element they normally used. These casting marks may be an entirely new vocabulary that he was creating to express that fundamental energy.”

“Wow. Seriously, wow,” Nox said, her mind spinning with the possibilities. “I bet you the elemental keys he created were an off-shoot of this project. He would have needed to study the raw, unaltered substance of each one to try and tap into the source behind them.”

Evan straightened back up. “He was a true genius, and we have sorely missed him. The world became a darker place when he passed on.”

“Well then, I guess it’s up to us to re-light that torch and carry on for him, right?” Nox said. She pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and dipped her quill pen into the inkwell. “We know he fused the key to Winds into Grimm. The problem is that he put so many other enchantments on him that I can’t tell what’s what to untangle them all. Add to that everything the Shadowkin did and it all becomes a huge mess. But If I can find his notes on the Wind key, I can at least take that out of the equation. Are there any other books from that time period on the shelves?”

“No, milady. Those were the last. There was little time for research once the war broke out.”

“Only ten more to go then,” she said, stifling a yawn. “It would go faster with a little help, would you mind? Normally I’d ask Grimm, but under the circumstances –“

The air grew a little colder as Evan solidified enough to pick up the next book off the stack. “I will gladly help, milady. Anything to help get our Captain back.”

———————-

Viktor was in trouble. He sat down the fire rose that Loki had entrusted to him, and tried to pull himself together. He could literally feel himself unraveling as the dragon fire inside the rose unmade the enchantments that held his spirit to this world. He knew Nox would need the power within it, however, so after a short rest he scooped it up and floated slowly onward.

As he turned down another hallway, a chorus of demonic voices hissed from somewhere behind him. “We know you are here, Lord Dragon. We can smell you…”

If Viktor had still had blood, it would have run cold. The Shadowkin were in the castle, and they thought that he was Loki because of the rose. He could not return to Lady Nox now, and risk leading them to her. He didn’t have the energy left to stand and fight, either.  “Nothing for it then,” he thought, and quit trying to hide the energy signature of the rose. “Come on, you evil bastards. Catch me if you can.”

He put all his energy into flying through the corridors, holding out the rose to leave a faint heat trail in his wake. A simple Air casting mimicked the sound of running footsteps.

An unearthly howl came from behind him. “Run, little man. Do you think those pathetic ghosts will save you?”

The increased pace was causing Viktor to unravel even faster. Soon he would not be able to hold the rose at all. “Still not far enough, I must keep going!” He turned down another hallway, only to find that the portal at its end had been collapsed. He spun around as the sound of claws clicking on stone came from behind him.

A massive, shadowy hound paced toward him. It filled the hallway, and oily black tendrils oozed from its sides, seeping down the corridor ahead of it. “Where is he? Where is the boy who would be king of the Fire kindreds?”  

Viktor stood tall, and faced his ancient foes. “Right here,” he said, and whipped the rose straight at it.

The glass shattered as it hit the ground, and an explosion of fire erupted like a volcano. The hound screamed in a hundred voices, and Viktor charged through the flames, sword first.

The last thing he saw, as his blade pierced the beast’s shoulder was a huge set of claws sweeping toward his head.

And in a crypt, deep in the heart of the castle, his bones turned to dust.

The hound limped out of the inferno, and the spirits held within it snarled in rage. “Kill them, we will kill them all! Their scent is everywhere, Galen’s precious knights.”

Another voice cut through the howling of the mob. “No, brothers. The knight carried a token from the Lord Dragon. Which means his lady must be near.”

“Yes, yes! Find her! Kill her! Let the hunt begin!”


<–Page 2   –BeginningPage 4 ->

A Game of Chess – Endgame, Page 2 February 25, 2012

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(Episode 100 of Nox and Grimm continues!)

Night had fallen, like a velvet curtain shot through with stars and slit by the pale blade of the moon. Loki sat beneath its distant light, on a balcony ledge outside his rooms. He had one knee drawn up to his chest and his arms looped around it, but the edge to his voice belied the casual pose.

“What in Hel’s name could my uncle be up to? You’re sure, Anders?”

The Storm kin nodded, moonlight catching in his silver hair. “New Dawn cultists have been stationed in the house of every noble family in the Fire territories. Their excuse is extra security – because you know how solicitous your uncle is of his people’s safety,” Anders said, with a snort of contempt. “Do you think he’s trying to keep them from defecting to your side? We have had people quietly spreading the word about you.”

“Maybe.” Loki got up and started pacing. “Have you heard anything from Nox?”

“No, but Lucien sent word that he would be gone for a few days, and left Brand to handle any duties in his absence.” Anders paused, giving Loki a guarded look before continuing. “He also said if he was delayed longer than three days, that Nox was to step in as regent.”

Loki stopped dead in his tracks. “Nox. Not Kel.”

“Lucien has never favored Kel over his own daughter, and you know it,” Anders said, with a shrug. “Personally, I’d say he made the right choice. Kel has a wife now, and since the baby was born he’s been distancing himself from all the troubles in the House of Ice. If the alliance between Snow and Ice wasn’t hanging on him, I think he’d take his new family and run.”

Loki started pacing again, and wisps of fire curled around him. “Something’s happening out there, Andy, and I’m stuck here in the back end of nowhere, without any answers.”  He looked at the door to his rooms, caution warring with a need to be out doing something.

Anders knew his friend well enough to sense an impending explosion, and tried to cut it off. “Lucien would not have asked you to defend this outpost if it wasn’t strategically important,” he temporized.

“Important to whom?” Loki growled.

A gust of cold air blew out from the door to his rooms, and the ghost of one of the Wind Knights appeared. “My Lord Dragon, I bring word from Lady Zephyr.”

“Zephyr? You mean Nox?” Loki said.

“Yes milord. But she stated that it was for your ears only.”

It took Loki a second, but he finally saw enough of the ghost in the moonlight to recognize him. “Anders has my full confidence, Viktor. You may speak freely in his presence.”

The ghost frowned, but reluctantly complied. “I am afraid my news is dire. The Shadowkin are on the loose, aided by Lord Lucien’s wife. He goes now to hunt them down.”

Ander’s jaw dropped. “Ambassador Serenna? No, that has to be wrong.”

Loki wasn’t at all surprised. Serenna had become increasingly erratic in recent months. Especially around her daughter. “Is Nox all right? Where is she?” he demanded, his imagination conjuring up all kinds of scenarios, and none of them good. “How did they get past Grimm?”

The ghost held up his hands, motioning for him to be calm. “Lady Zephyr is safe, milord. She works even now to free our Captain from the hands of our enemies.”

Loki spat out a curse. “Safe? The last time they got hold of Grimm she had to rescue all of you, and nearly died doing it!”

The ghost’s frown deepened. “We are watching over her.”

“That’s not good enough,” Loki said, his cinnamon eyes glowing from the intensity of the flames burning in their depths. “You will take me to her.”

The chill in the air deepened. “No, I will not. To reveal her location would ruin any protection she has. She is safe, and that is all you need to know.”

Loki’s heated reply was cut short by the sound running footsteps and the door to his room banging open. The ghost disappeared just before a young Fire nomad staggered out onto the balcony. “Forgive me, my Lord, but this can’t wait,” he gasped, his skinny sides heaving as he struggled to catch his breath. “An army, sir. Gathering on the borders to our south.”

Loki bit back his temper and forced himself to speak calmly to the boy. “Who are they? Did the scouts see any banners, or count numbers of troops?”

The boy leaned weakly against the balcony, holding his hand to a stitch in his side. “Fire kindreds, sir. Banners from every noble house, each with a full mounted cohort.”

Anders let out an explosive breath. “That’s what your uncle is doing. His New Dawn lackeys are holding their families hostage, forcing them to go to war. He knows you won’t use the Dragon mark against your own people.”

Loki’s fists clenched. “Lucien’s been taken out of play, and so have Nox and Grimm. We can’t count on any help from Ice.”

“Bloody Hel,” Anders said, sinking down to sit next to the boy. “We’ve only got a token force here. We’ll be annihilated if you don’t use the Dragon.”

“Damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” Loki said, in dismal agreement. “I think the jaws of this trap have been closing on us for a long time, Andy. But we’re only just now seeing the teeth.”

“So what do we do?” Anders asked.

“What Lucien asked us to do. He was specific about needing three days, and we’re going to give him that time,” he said, a plan already forming in his mind. “How do you feel about stealing horses?”

Anders thought about it, and a slow smile spread across his face. “It’s a long walk from the border to here. It might rain too, and the roads down there haven’t been restored yet. Poor bastards. There’s nothing more pathetic than a soggy Fire kin.”

“And they’ll have supply trains, strung out all the way back to those forts dotted around the Storm territories,” Loki said with an answering smile.

The boy was looking between them, bewildered. “Sirs? Aren’t we going to dig in here?”

Loki put an arm around his shoulders. “No, Tavis, we are not. Go get your dad, we need to plan a few friendly little raids.” Tavis bobbed his head in acknowledgement and dashed off again.

Anders pushed himself up off the balcony ledge. “What about Nox? Five minutes ago you were spoiling for a fight with a dead guy over seeing her. Now you’re going to run off without a saying a word?”

“Viktor will take a message. Won’t you,” he said, looking directly at a spot just inside the room that looked colder to his thermal vision.

The ghost rematerialized. “You have made your point, sir. We cannot always hide ourselves from those with the ability to see heat and cold, or auras, like Lady Zephyr does. But we can use that to our advantage against the Shadowkin, laying false trails to cover her tracks with our own energy signatures. We are buying time for her to work, just as you are for Lord Lucien.”

“I’m less worried about the Shadowkin than I am Serenna,” Loki said. “She can track Nox anywhere, and dragon fire is the only thing we’ve found that counters her spells.”

He scrubbed at his beard, wracking his brain for a way to be in two places at once. The answer was simple, he couldn’t be. And he knew what Nox would want him to do. There were several hundred people living at the outpost now, who were all depending on him to protect them. “Duty before self,” he said, and the words were bitter on his tongue. “Maybe I can’t be with her, but I can buy her some time as well.”

The dragon tattoo rose up to the surface of Loki’s skin and coiled down his arm. Its head lifted away and the jaws opened, shooting a jet of flame into his palm. The fire pooled and hardened, slowly taking on the shape of a single, perfect glass rose. It flickered like a coal, black at the edges with scarlet and gold at its heart.

“Make sure she keeps it close,” Loki said. “It should radiate enough power to diffuse at least one spell, maybe two.” He handed the rose to the ghost, who had solidified enough to hold it. “The rest will be up to you. Don’t fail her, Viktor.”

“Look to your own battles, young man, and leave us to ours,” the ghost said, and disappeared.

Anders put a hand on Loki’s shoulder. “She’ll be all right, Red. I bet she’ll come out of this better than we will.”

“You’re probably right. I just wish it didn’t feel like I’m abandoning her,” Loki said. He shook himself and went back inside, stopping just long enough to snag a map out of a cubby hole in his desk. He rolled it out on a table in the sitting room, pinning the corners down with a dagger and a few empty wine glasses. “We’ll hit them here, just before dawn when the sentries are nearing the end of their shift…”


<–Page 1   –BeginningPage 3 ->

Nox and Grimm – Episode 100 Event! February 24, 2012

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It’s here!  After 2 wonderful years with Nox and Grimm , I’ve arrived at episode 100, can you believe it? I’ve been thinking hard on ways to make this a special event, to thank everyone that’s read along and been so encouraging as I learned the craft of writing. So I figured, what better way to celebrate than with a week long event!  Yes, that’s right, I have written an entire short story to wrap up the Game of Chess story line, and I’ll be posting installments throughout the next week! And more – watch this space for Bonus Content and some big announcements at the end!  *squeee!* I’m so excited!  I hope you are too!

And now, here is the first installment of Nox and Grimm, A Game of Chess – Endgame.

——————————–

Nox’s heart lay in her chest like a lead weight as she watched her father leave. She heard him give a few terse orders to the guards, and then his footsteps faded as he left the mausoleum. Some part of her wanted to cling to the sounds, knowing they might be the last she ever heard from him. She tried to imagine life without her father, and could not do it. He had always been there, as certain as the change of seasons and strong as a winter storm. To hear him calmly making plans for her future in the advent of his death had shaken Nox to her core. She took a deep breath and summoned Ice to steady herself, and turned to one of the spirits waiting by the portal. “What do you think his chances are, Viktor?”

The ghost knight shook his head. “I can only see the truth of what is, and what was, milady. I cannot see the future.”

“I know that, I wanted your assessment as a soldier,” Nox said. “You fought the Shadowkin, you know what they’re capable of. Can he beat them?”

Viktor let out a whispering sigh. “Perhaps if we knew which of them had gotten free, I could make a better guess, milady. But it would still be a guess. There are too many variables, not the least of which is our missing Captain.”

“I will free Grimm from them,” Nox said, wrapping her arms around herself. “Somehow.”  She glanced over her shoulder one last time, reluctant to leave, but there was nothing more she could do here. She crossed through the portal back to the long, empty corridors that riddled the outer defensive walls of the city Zephyra. “I have a few ideas I want to try, but I’ll need to gather some materials. Damn, I wish I had time to visit my workshop. Everything I need is there.”

Viktor and another ghost, Evan, floated to either side of her. They exchanged looks over her head. “Can we show her, brother?” Viktor asked.

Evan inclined his head. “I think we must.”

Nox put her hands on her hips and scowled up at them. “Hello, standing right here.”

Viktor gave her a little half-bow at the waist. “My apologies, Lady Zephyr. We are bound by certain rules, and must obey them before we can act.”

“Lady Zephyr –” she said, confused.

“It is your title, now that your father has formally named you his heir. Your ancestor, Lord Galen named his city Zephyra after his own House, and all of this,” he said, waving a translucent hand, “is yours now. “

Nox looked around the dusty stone hallways, and her father’s words mocked her. Nothing but ghosts in the ruins. What good would any of this do her, or Grimm? She would have to rule Ice, and all their dreams of bringing back the House of Winds had fallen to ashes.  She shoved down the welter of emotions that threatened to drown her again, drawing even more heavily on Ice to keep them in check. She gave Viktor brittle smile. “Thanks…that’s good to know. We have more pressing concerns than titles, however. I only have three days, and much to get done.”

She started back down the hall that would take her to back to her rooms at the outpost on the edge of the Wind territories, but Evan put out a hand to stop her.  “No, my Lady, you do not understand. Everything that belonged to Lord Galen is yours now,” he said, pointing down a smaller, debris filled hallway, “including his laboratory.”

A tiny flicker of hope flared to life in her chest. “It’s still here? It’s intact?”

Viktor was already floating down the corridor. “This way, my Lady. Watch your step, the floor is not entirely sound.”

Nox had spent every spare moment for the past month exploring the ruins of the ancient city, but somehow managed to miss the corridors they led her down. She had to clamber over piles of fallen masonry and skirt gaping holes in the floor, but she was small and light enough not to cause any loose stones to shift. They passed through several portals, each one taking them further in towards the castle at the center of the city.  The last portal was built into a small wooden door that had managed to avoid the decay of centuries. Elemental casting marks were carved into every inch of its surface, and to Nox’s aura sight it glowed with a silvery sheen.

“Galen certainly built his enchantments to last,” she said, running a hand almost reverently over the wood. How often had she dreamed of finding the place where so many of his greatest works were created? She looked up at Evan.  “How do I open it?”

“State your name and title, and place your hand over the metal lock plate.” The ghost pointed to a flat bronze panel set next to the door handle.

Nox stepped up to the door, excitement putting a flush to her pale cheeks. Finally, she would find the answers she needed to free Grimm from the Shadowkin forever! She placed her palm against the metal, and summoned Air to augment her voice. “My name is Nox, the Lady Zephyr, heir to Wind and Ice.”

The soft, silver light that radiated from the door intensified, and the carvings lit up so bright that Nox had to squint against the glare. The energy ran down through the symbols carved in the door, flowing at an alarming rate to where her hand rested. She had just enough time to brace herself before it slammed into her hand, running along her veins and spreading out through her whole body. The jolt made her bite her tongue, and she could taste the sharp tang of blood in her mouth.

Nox spit it out, and put a sleeve to her lips. The energy hurt, but her mother had done worse to her. She held firm while it moved through her, stubbornly refusing to show any sign of weakness. Eventually it faded, and a tingling sensation she had always equated with her mother’s healing spells prickled on her tongue. The pain disappeared, along with the taste of blood.

“You have the taint of the Shadowkin on you.”

Nox quickly studied the door, trying to find where the voice had come from. “I am soul-bound to Grimmalkyn, and we have both suffered at their hands.”

“None who are controlled by the Shadowkin may enter.” The energy began to build again, pushing against her hand

“I never said I gave in to them!” Nox snapped, and pitted her will against the energy, pushing it back. “Grimm is in trouble, and I am not going to let some stupid talking door keep me from helping him. Either you open, or I’ll start ripping these enchantments apart!”

The energy halted, buzzing around the edges of the metal plate. “You care so much for him?”

Nox thought of Grimm; the goofy, tongue-lolling grin the hound gave her whenever he teased her, all the nights as a child when she had snuck out to his mausoleum to hear him tell stories of the House of Winds, of every time he had rushed to save her life.  “Yes. I would do anything to save him.”

“Such devotion, in one so young. You are very much like him.”

The door swung open slowly, its hinges grinding after millennia of disuse. The last whisper of power drained from the casting marks and flowed through the room, lighting a series of small glass lamps that lined the walls.

Nox expected to see everything covered in layers of dust and cobwebs, but the lab was pristine, as if its owner had only just stepped out. Several long tables ran parallel to each other down the center of the room, covered in books and scientific apparatus. The walls were lined with shelves, each filled with jars and boxes of all shapes and sizes. Every item was meticulously labeled, with a sheaf of notes tacked to the shelf next to where it sat. Nox pulled one set out, and saw it was a list of what properties the item had, every known use for it, lists of experiments Galen had used it in, the reasons it was used and the results.  She put the papers back and smiled – she had shelves of notes just like it in her workshop. “Well, I guess a penchant for mischief isn’t the only thing I come by honestly.”

Nox ignored the contents of the tables in favor of a large writing desk. “Anyone this compulsive will have a catalogue of all experiments, with cross referencing to mark related lines of study.”  She picked up a heavy tome and carefully opened it, afraid it might fall apart. The paper was as perfectly preserved as the rest of the lab, however, so she quickly skimmed through it. “Not in this one. Viktor, what was the year that Grimm was taken by the Shadowkin?”

The ghost moved from his post by the door.  “The year of Falling Stars, in the third cycle of the transiting moon. It was on this very day, two thousand, one hundred and fifty three years ago that our Lord Galen made his last effort to free our Captain from the Shadowkin curse. It is fitting that on this day, his descendant has come to finish his work.”

Nox blew out her cheeks, and muttered, “Sure. No pressure.”  She raked her hair back out of her eyes and picked up another book.  “Would one of you please go and tell Loki, privately mind you, of everything that’s occurred today?  I’ll need some provisions as well. This may take a while.”

“Of course, Lady Zephyr,” Viktor said, and bowed before walking out through the wall.

Nox barely heard him, already engrossed in her ancestor’s writings. Three days, she thought. Three days to do what Galen could not with all the resources and power in the world to back him up.  She let go of the Ice she had summoned, and drew on the Winds instead. Air was intellect, and she was going to need every scrap of brain power she had to figure this problem out. She pulled some blank sheets of paper from a cubby hole in the desk, along with a fountain pen and inkwell, and settled down to work..


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Flash Fiction – A Game of Chess, Part 4: Castle the King February 10, 2012

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

Shadows bled from beneath every rock and tree as the sun dipped below distant mountain peaks. They ran like ink and pooled together, until the whole world drowned in darkness. This is how it should always be, Katya thought, and laughed as her spirit flew through the gathering gloom.  The Lord of Ice had fallen, and now it was time to place another pawn on the board.

She found Balor in his chambers, withered and weak, facing a floor-length mirror. Gnarled hands brushed strands of coarse, graying hair over a balding pate. The Morning Lord revealed, in all his pathetic glory. The night was not kind to one who had so closely tied himself to the sun.

She smiled a sharks’ grin and appeared in the mirror, standing behind his sad reflection. “Good evening, my Lord. I see you make ready for your final triumph.”

Balor dipped his hands into a basin filled with light, and took a long drink from his cupped hands. His youth and strength slowly returned, transforming him into powerfully built man with a lion’s mane of thick, tawny hair hanging down his back. “You know I do not like it when you come unannounced.”

Katya settled gracefully into a chair piled high with furs. “I have news you will want to hear,” she said, giving him a coy look. “Unless you have changed your mind about killing your nephew.”

That got his undivided attention. He turned to face her, an eager light in his eyes. “You were successful?”

“But of course. The Ice Lord’s heart may be a small and frostbitten thing, but what there is of it centers wholly around his wife and daughter. He has been brought to heel, just as I promised.”

“And what of Grimmalkyn?”

Katya’s rippling laughter filled the room, but only made it feel more chill. “He’s right here. Aren’t you, my pet?”

A massive, six foot tall hound stepped out of the shadows cast by his mistress and lay down at her feet. Katya reached out to fondle its ears. “There, you see? I make good on my promises. Now it’s time to fulfill yours. Loki must die, we cannot allow Lucien any strong allies if we are to defeat him.”

Balor made an irritable gesture, and turned back to the mirror. “My troops are already on the move.”

“Shouldn’t you be with them?” she asked.

“I will join them for the final kill. Do not worry, my pet,” he said, imitating her mocking tone, “the dragon mark will be mine.” He made one last check to be sure no sign of age was showing, and left the room, locking the door behind him.

Katya watched him go with thinly veiled disgust. “The vain fool is making the same mistake as  last time. If he fails again to take the dragon mark, I will skin him alive. I’ve been waiting too long to own that sweet little artifact.”

The hound shrugged, and hundreds of hissing voices emerged from its mouth. “Even a lowly rat has cunning, and can kill with its diseased bite. Do not underestimate him. He will not give the dragon to you without a fight.”

Katya uncoiled from the chair and gestured for the hound to follow her to the mirror. “Be easy. I know what makes Balor tick. It will take but a moment to tear him apart when the time comes.”

“And what of Nox? We can hear her calling to the guardian, even now. There is still a chance that she can rejoin his soul with this body. That would be disastrous for our plans.”

Katya smiled at her reflection. “Well, if she is calling, then by all means go to her. And when she welcomes her friend back with open arms, kill her.” She paused, and put a finger thoughtfully to her cheek. “But take your time about it. We need to keep Lucien hoping that he can still win for three more days.”

The hound howled with glee as it disappeared back into the shadows she cast, eager to do her bidding.

The undercroft of Grimm’s old mausoleum had not seen so much activity in centuries. Guards were posted inside and out, and the ghosts of two Wind knights waited just beyond the portal at its furthest end. Nox followed her father down the stairs into the dark, dusty chamber, hurrying to keep up with his longer stride.

Outwardly, Lucien looked the same as always, but Nox could see that his aura was dimmed and faded. He had not spent much time in her mother’s suite, but it was enough to send him out a changed man. When she asked what happened, the only answer she got was a curt, “Not here.”

Lucien dismissed the men standing guard near the portal, and motioned for one of the ghosts to come closer. “I need an Air casting that will keep us from being overheard.”

Viktor nodded, his voice a breathy whisper. “Of course, my Lord.” He sketched a sign in the air with a translucent dagger, and flicked the base of the blade to create a clear, ringing tone.  The sound bounced off all four walls of the room, and the voices from the guards in the crypt upstairs were abruptly cut off.

Lucien motioned Nox to take a seat with him on the lowest stair. “Do you understand what Grimmalkyn is?”

Nox raised an eyebrow at that. She was soul-bound to Grimm, and probably knew him better than anyone. But if her father was willing to talk, she would gladly play along to get some answers. “He was a Wind Knight who was cursed by the Shadowkin to wear the shape of a hound.”

“That is true, as far as it goes,” Lucien said. “But what you need to understand is that Grimmalkyn is no longer just a man. He is a prison. And we are the jailors. The spirits of all those Shadowkin trapped within him are the inmates.”

Nox scrunched up her face. “I never thought of it like that. I was always too busy finding ways to exterminate them. But why should that matter?”

“Because at least one of the prisoners has escaped. Maybe more.”

“Bloody Hel…they got to mother.” Nox said, horrified. “It’s my fault. When I freed Grimm from the spells that forced him to obey anyone from our bloodline, I set them loose.”

“No, daughter, you did nothing wrong,” Lucien said, quietly. “It happened on my watch.”

“But how? When?” Nox said, looking up at him in shock.

“Just before you were born.”  He took her hands in his own. “I do not regret the actions that brought you into this world. You have been my greatest joy. I only wish that I had spent more time with you. I might have seen the danger within your mother long before now.”

Nox could feel her hands trembling. All those years her mother’s spells had tormented her, all of it was at the prompting of the Shadowkin. And technically, it was all her father’s fault, although she didn’t blame him. How could he have known that his wife would fall so easily into madness?

Nox slowly shook her head. There was just too much pain in that simple admission of guilt for her to process. She summoned the essence of Ice to steady herself, and shoved her jumbled emotions aside. “Right, let’s stick to the problem at hand. You altered mother so that she could bear your children. But you inadvertently shared your ability to act as jailor to the Shadowkin with her as well. And for some crazed reason, she used that ability to set one free. Does that about sum it up?” A nod was all the answer she got, so she kept on going. “Okay. We need a plan to deal with mother, and an unknown number of allies. Where do we start?”

We don’t start anything,” Lucien said. “The only job you have now is to regain control of Grimmalkyn. I believe I can handle your mother, and the Shadowkin. But not if I must fight him as well.”

“You can’t take them on without backup!” Nox said. “At least take Loki with you; Fire cancels out mother’s spells.”

“Which is why I want him with you,” Lucien said. “The enemy knows you are the key to controlling Grimmalkyn. If I am right, today’s attempt on your life will not be the last. I need you to stay well out of their reach until this is over. You must keep Grimmalkyn out of their hands.”

Nox wasn’t the least bit happy about being sidelined, but he was right. If the Shadowkin were on the move, Grimm needed her more than her father did. “So what will you be doing while I track Grimm down?” she asked.

Lucien gave her a bleak smile. “They have foolishly given me three days to prepare for our next encounter. I will recover your mother from them.” He stood up, and pulled Nox to her feet as well. “However, in case all does not go as planned, I will set in motion the process to name you as my only heir. No, don’t argue,” he said.  “Kel is decent enough young man, but he is not the leader the House of Ice needs. Perhaps, in time, you can bring back Air as well, but there are only ghosts left in the ruins. The living need you, Nox. If Ice falls, the whole North goes with it. Kel is not strong enough to hold the alliance together.”

Nox took a deep breath and let back out. “You don’t ask for much, do you?”

Lucien gave her a hug and kissed the top of her head. “Take it as a sign of how much faith I have in you.” He let her go, and signaled to Viktor. “You can let the Air casting go. Watch over her.”

“Always,” the ghost said.

Nox shivered a little at that. It was what Grimm had said so often to her, ‘always.’  She wondered what could drive men to chain their souls in service to another for eternity. Someday she’d have to ask him that. But first, she had to pry Grimm loose from whatever Shadowkin trap was holding him. She gave her father a determined smile. “I’ll see you in three days. The people of the North need you too.”

“I will return, one way or the other,” he said, and left her alone in the undercroft, with nothing but ghosts for company.


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This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated 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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