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

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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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.


<–Previous   –BeginningNext->

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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Comments»

1. Sharon - February 10, 2012

Oh my Lord…. oh dear!! This just gets better and better and sadder and grimmer (pun intended) with every chapter! I do so love how you write. And I adore these characters! *shivers* I await the next installment with fear and trembling….

techtigger - February 24, 2012

thank you! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it, and there’s a ton of stuff coming up this week with episode 100 – big changes, woohoo! 😀

2. Julie (O-kami) - February 11, 2012

Ooo what Shaon said!! I could not have said it any better

techtigger - February 24, 2012

heheh, thanks! Lots more coming this week, an entire short story posted in flashfic installments!

3. Larry "FARfetched" Kollar - February 11, 2012

I love the somber tone of this entire series, as if it’s all happening at dusk and gloaming. Are you going to pull it all together into a book someday?

techtigger - February 24, 2012

thank you! yes, this particular story arc is a little darker than usual, but then, there are a lot of unpleasant changes in the air.

thanks for the comment, and I hope you enjoy the next segment!


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