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

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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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 ->

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Comments»

1. ganymeder - February 26, 2012

Holy crap! Serenna with the Shadowkin? And the glass rose protection was a nice love token/ protection from Loki. You certainly keep the action and thrills coming. Wow.

techtigger - February 27, 2012

yes, serenna is working with the shadowkin – though it’s anyone’s guess which of them is running the show *muuhwaahaaa!* 🙂

the next installment is up, hope you enjoy it!


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