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A Game of Chess – Checkmate (1 of 2) March 19, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Hello everyone!  I’m so sorry this has taken so long but my day job attacked in a big way. I’ve pretty much been scrounging to find time to sleep, so writing was not an option. But I finally got a day free yesterday, and rather than make you wait to read the whole finished peice, I’ll post it in two parts. I hope you’ll forgive me for the delay, and that you’ll enjoy the end of the short story 🙂

-Angie

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Lucien was the master of Ice, a warcaster and enchanter without equal amongst his peers. He could bury the entire north in snow, given a bit of time and enough reason. But the one skill he lacked, the one he truly needed now was healing.  The gift ran through all Air kindreds, and by extension through his bloodline, diluted though it was with Ice. In him however, the talent was weak and lay dorment. Even if he hadn’t fallen in love with Serenna, he might have married her regardless just to rekindle the gift in his descendants.

It was that singular lack that brought him to the mountains to see the ghosts of his ancestors. He had a plan to save his wife, but it required that he not only bring out his healing gift, but learn to use it in less than three days.

The ghost of his great-great-great-great-grandfather Lordan shook his head as his pupil failed again. “My boy, perhaps it is time you considered an alternate plan,” he said.

Lucien wrestled one-handed with a bandage for the small cut on his forearm. He had not even managed to stop the bleeding, let alone seal the cut. “The first thing I asked for when I arrived was an alternate solution. None of you had one with an acceptable result.”

Lordan looked down his long nose at him. “There is what you want to do, and what you must do. Defeating the Shadowkin may well require you to give up what you want most.”

“Don’t prate at me about duty,” Lucien snapped, uncharacteristically short tempered. Failure was not something he was accustomed to. He took a deep breath and drew on Ice to cool down, but Lordan put a hand on his arm to stop him.

“Therein lies the problem. You draw too heavily on Ice. Air is breath, it is life, and Ice traps it, keeps it from flowing. Let go of it, Lucien.”

Lordan might as well have asked him to pluck the moon from the sky. Lucien could sense the Air, but only as an extension of the cold heart of winter. There was nothing of life in it, and trying to heal with that aspect of Air was like trying to work with all four limbs amputated. He let the energy go and stood up abruptly, stalking to the entrance of the cave.

Another ghost stood guard there, Lughaid, one of Lucien’s more warlike ancestors. The hoary old spirit stared out over the tree-clad slopes of the mountain, eyes fixed on the horizon. “It is hard to deny your nature, isn’t it? That is why I told you to put aside your half-human child. I did not think she was capable of being a true heir to our House.”

“And I told you what to do with your opinion,” Lucien replied.

Lughaid let out a sharp little laugh and pointed to the gathering clouds. “I’d like to take back what I said. Every word.”

The sky darkened and a shockwave rolled over them, with a sound like a thunderclap mingled with the screams of the damned.  The mountains shook to their roots and as the sound died, a brisk wind ripped the clouds to tatters and blew them away.

Lughaid punched a fist in the air. “YES! The guardian is free, and so are we at long last, my kin! The Shadowkin are gone!”

Lucien brushed past him, his eyes on the gathering shadows beneath the trees. “If that were true, you would not still be here.”

The pine trees on the slopes below began to creak and sway, leaning forward and back as they ripped their roots from the ground. They lifted them up and plunged them into the ground again, earth and stone crumbling before their grotesque march.

“You are early, Shadowkin,” Lucien said, his quiet baritone somehow cutting easily through the din.

A woman’s voice shrieked from the depths of the forest. “Liar! Cheat! You changed the game!”

Lucien narrowed his eyes. “I have done nothing.”

Eyes that glowed a poisonous green moved amidst the trees that lurched up the slope. “No, you only sent your daughter to steal my hound. But no matter, I will soon even the score. Your wife will suffer every torment within my power before the end.”

“So be it. If I cannot save her, then I see no reason to hold back.”

The temperature dropped over a hundred degrees in an instant, and the trees exploded.  The Shadowkin wailed and dove for the ground, but Lucien was already ahead of her. The roots exploded as well, the blast filling the valley below with shrapnel.

“You should not have let me see that branch in my wife’s summoning circle, Shadowkin,” Lucien said, as he gathered more energy for a third strike. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out that you needed an anchor to materialize?”

“You haven’t won yet!” she snarled, and the shadows fled.

Lucien ran to get his horse from the back of the cave. A flick of his hand iced over the debris field outside, and a touch to a carved stone on the horse’s harness released the enchantment that would give it sure footing.

Lordan hovered nearby as he readied his mount. “Shall we summon the guardian? He was a great healer in his day, and could easily do the enchantment you were attempting.”

“Do it,” Lucien said, “and let us hope that he will still answer your call.” He swung up into the saddle and sent his horse flying in pursuit of his foe.

—-

It was the strangest battle Loki had ever fought. In a duel, he would face his opponent head on and fight until one of them yielded, or the killing blow was delivered. Not so here. All through the night he and his raiders harried the Fire kin – they stole their horses and wrecked their gear, but whenever their opponents tried to close they would fade away into the night. Somewhere deep down he felt like he was fighting without honor, but there was no honor in killing the very people he hoped to lead one day. The position his uncle had put him in was ridiculous.

He cantered back through the gates of the outpost on a stolen horse, with Anders riding at his side. The Storm kin swung stiffly to the ground, favoring a wound in his calf. “Looks like the non-combatants cleared out. Wonder if they left us any supplies?”

“I ordered them to empty the place,” Loki said. He dismounted and dug through the saddle bags. “Here, patch up that leg.” He tossed Anders a small medical kit. “Everyone, take whatever you can scrounge and leave the horses behind, they’re too blown to run much farther. We leave in ten minutes.”

Anders tested his newly bandaged leg. “It’ll hold for now, but I won’t be sprinting any time soon. Are you sure you know your way around those goat tracks up in the hills?”

Loki grinned. “I wasn’t only going up there to spend time alone with Nox. It’s important to know the ground you’re going to defend.”

Anders let out an amused snort. “Or have to run through if her angry father comes hunting your head.”

“Or that,” Loki agreed, amicably.

One of the Fire nomads on watch above the gates stood up, shading his eyes against the morning sun. “Dust cloud on the horizon, sir,” he called down.

“Get down you fool!” Loki yelled, but it was too late.  A beam of light shot through him, and he toppled backwards. Loki ran to catch him, grunting from the impact, and lowered him to the gently ground. “Easy, we’ve got you. It’s just your shoulder, you’ll live.”

“Keep your heads down!” Anders roared. “Light travels for miles!”

More warnings came from the sentries posted around the walls. “Horses, coming in fast from the south!”  “Incoming from the west!”

“They must have found where we stashed the horses,” Loki said. “Damn it all, I was hoping for more time.”

Beams of light riddled the upper levels of the outpost, cutting through the stone like it was soft butter. “Time to go, Red,” Anders said. “Those New Dawn bastards will only get stronger as the day goes on.”

Loki nodded and helped the Fire nomad to his feet. “Andy, I want you to get the wounded out of here. We’re going need to move fast, anyone that can’t keep up gets mustered out. Put ‘em on the horses and head through the portals to northwest. Three stops on, you can head across country to that waypost of Lucien’s.”

“Got it boss,” Anders said, and punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t get caught.”

“I don’t plan on it.”

The remaining raiders gathered near the portal entrance, taking shelter beneath whatever cover they could find. The fire from the New Dawn soldiers was getting more accurate as they closed in, and large chunks of masonry rained into the courtyard. Blasts of flame made the walls glow red and began to melt as the Fire kin added their warcastings to the assault. Loki winced, thinking of all the hard work he and Nox had put into fixing the place. He didn’t even want to think what Grimm would say; the old Air kin had his heart wrapped up in his ancient home.

As the thunder of hoofbeats approached, he signaled to the men to ready their own warcastings. “We only need to hold a few minutes to buy the wounded time to get out of reach,” Loki called out. “When I give the signal, you run like Hel for that portal!”

There was no more time for orders.  The courtyard lit up with a searing white light as the New Dawn soldiers lobbed a flash bomb through the gates.  Loki countered with the dragon mark, channeling away the heat and filling the area with smoke.  Figures made dim by the haze galloped through the gates, and were met by a crackle of lighting from the Storm kindreds. The screams of men and horses added to the din as a wave of fire broke over them, but Loki countered that as well, redirecting it up into the sky.  A handful of rifles that must have survived the last raid let loose in a staccato rhythm, and now it was the defenders turn to add to the cries of the wounded. The Fire nomads struck back, whirling slings full of hot shot into the faces of their opponents.

The battle raged back and forth across the courtyard, until the air was so thick with smoke and dust from shattered stones that it was nigh impossible to tell friend from foe.  Loki let out a piercing whistle, and with last blast of furnace heat he ran with his men back to the portal. The stumbled through, dragging their casualties with them, and two of the Storm kin set up lighting traps to stun the first troops to try to follow them through.

Loki took a quick headcount.  All were accounted for, but only half had come through unscathed. “Let’s move. They’ll be on us any minute.”

They limped through the corridors, and sure enough there was another crackle as the traps were sprung, followed by the clatter of hooves on stone.  Adrenaline gave speed to their tired legs, and the raiders pelted through the halls to the second portal.

Someone at the front of the line yelled, “More horses coming this way!”

The noise of hooves echoing in the hallway was deafening, but above the Loki heard Anders yelling, “Don’t shoot!  Don’t shoot!”

“Stand down!” Loki bellowed.  “Andy, what are you doing here!”

As Anders reined in his lathered mount, Loki could see that the normally unflappable Storm kin was shaken.

“The portals are ruined. Claw marks this wide across the markings on the stones,” Anders said, spreading his hand to show the size. “And we found this by one of them.”  He reached into a pocket and gingerly pulled out a few glowing, jagged pieces of glass. “Nox must have thrown it as a diversion.”

Loki’s heart stopped as he took the shards. One of them was intact enough to see that it was a petal from the fire rose he had made for her. Somewhere behind him the alarm was being raised by the rear guard, but he couldn’t get any thoughts past the one that she might be gone.

Anders shook his shoulder. “C’mon Red, snap out of it. For all we know she’s fine. Let’s just get you on a horse and get moving.”

Loki brushed him off.  “I’m staying. It’s me they’re after, they won’t follow you.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Anders said, and turned to signal one of the men to bring up a mount. He had to stop to grab the reins of his own horse though as it snorted and sidled away from Loki.

Loki knew he was losing control of the dragon mark, but he didn’t care. He could feel scales spreading along his neck and the back of his arms, and smoke rolled out from his mouth and nostrils. “Goodbye, Andy.” He made a motion as if ripping something up from the ground, and a sheet of molten lava shot up between them. The horses bred by Fire kin were used to flames and heat, but the choking, sulfurous fumes that came from the magma were too much for them. They bolted, and their hapless riders could do nothing but hang on.

When the first regiments of Fire kin arrived, they found Loki sitting on a pile of cooling lava, turning a small piece of glass in his hand. The lords Ash and Ember were in the lead, and they cautiously approached through the haze of smoke that surrounded him.

Loki closed his fist around the glass and glanced up at them. “I know what drove you here. And you know that I could have ended this any time I wanted to.”

Lord Ash shifted his balance, his hand dropping instinctively to the hilt of his sword. Lord Ember seemed more curious than worried, however. “But you did not end it,” he said, and looked the younger man up and down, a slight smile on his face. “My word, add a longer beard and you’d be the spitting image of your father.”

Loki stood up abruptly, and snorted as Ash took a few hurried steps back. “Relax man, haven’t I just said if I wanted you dead, you’d be gone already? I have a task for you,” he said. “Send word to that coward of an uncle of mine, tell him that you have me cornered. That should bring him out from under whatever rock he’s hiding under. After that, all you need do is stay out of the way.”

“You’re mad,” Ash said, his sword half-drawn. “You think you can give us orders when we have you surrounded?”

Ember put a hand on his wrist. “Don’t be an ass. Look at him, can you doubt now that he’s Ky’s son? Or that he has the dragon mark? We should be taking a knee and asking his forgiveness.” He let Ash go and signaled to one of his men. “Send the flare up.”

“No, Balor will kill them!” cried Ash.

Ember gave him a small, fatalistic shrug. “For all we know he’s killed our families already. You know he wants our lands; we’ve never been loyal enough for him. Send the signal.”

Ash cried, “No!” but the soldier was loyal to Ember, and sketched a fiery casting mark in the air. A ball of light blasted up through the ceiling and hurtled through the sky like a second sun rising. Ember ordered the men back and gave Loki a respectful bow before moving out of the way.

A portal opened where the light of the flare shone down, and a troop of New Dawn cultists poured out into the hallway.  From behind them, Loki heard his uncle’s voice, saying, “Kill him.”

Loki was in motion before the portal had finished opening. Dragon scale armor covered him from head to foot, and flames leapt from his hands to form a long, curving saber and wickedly sharp poniard.  He whirled into the midst them, one blade slashing across the throats of two cultists and the other buried hilt-deep in a third man’s chest. He ripped the blade out and kicked the corpse into his comrades, slowing them down so he could work on the men behind him. He ducked a blow and pivoted, raking the saber across the belly of the next man and letting his momentum add weight as he punched the poniard into another man’s throat. His saber flickered left, right, left, and three more fell.

The rest back-pedaled, shocked by the ferocity of his attack. He did not give them time to recover, leaping over the pile of bodies and hitting them at a run. Several more fell, too closely packed against their neighbors to get their swords up in time to stop him. The rest scrambled to get back through the portal, and Loki could see that it was starting to close. He drew on Fire for speed, Earth for more strength and hit them so hard that he sent the last of them sprawling head-first into the ground ahead of him. As soon as he passed through he set the dragon mark loose. “This for all the children of the Fire nomads you’ve tortured and killed!”

They did not even have time to scream. The ground heaved open and lava erupted from the earth’s molten core. Their dark silhouettes hung in the air for a heartbeat, and were gone.

Loki walked out across the darkening crust over the lava, ashes falling around him like a grey snow. There was no-one left, and the only sound was the distant drumming of hooves. He let out a growl. “Oh no, you don’t, uncle. You’re not getting away so easily.” He drew once more on the elements and raced after him.


<–Page 7  –Beginning– Checkmate pt2 ->

 

A Game of Chess – Endgame, Page 7 March 8, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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2 comments

(The episode 100 short story continues! woohoo, only one more segment to go! 🙂

Grimm walked arm-in-arm with Nox through the mansion, listening to the hollow echoes of his steel-shod feet. The halls were mostly empty – with both the Lord and Lady of the House away, there was no business being done other than the daily routines of the guards and staff.

The two of them were getting more than a few startled looks. Grimm could almost read the minds of the guards they passed, just by watching their eyes. They would look at him, size him up, and then look to Nox for reassurance that this hulking brute by her side was indeed a friend. Fortunately Nox was an old hand at this sort of thing. She smiled and chatted lightly with him, nodding to the guards as they passed to set them at ease.

Grimm caught his reflection in a mirror. He looked more grizzled and weather beaten than he remembered. One of the scars that criss-crossed his face pulled the corner of his mouth down in a perpetual scowl, and his armor was so battered it was only one step above scrap metal. No wonder everyone was staring; they probably thought he was some vagrant Nox had brought home out of charity.

Ingrained manners had him opening the door to the study for Nox, and holding out her chair. He pulled out a chair of his own and sat as uncomfortably on that as he had the ground out in the cemetery.

Nox rummaged through the desk until she found some blank sheets of paper to write on. “All right, now that we’re in private, what’s the name of this raving bitch that’s been making our lives so difficult?”

Grimm smiled at her all-too-appropriate choice of insults. “Katya. She is a forest kindred, from the jungles to the far south-west.”

The quill pen scratched across the paper as she wrote. “Makes sense. All sorts of nasty vines, spores, and other toxins come from there, and she does tend to use them. Any known weaknesses?”

“Katya likes to play complicated games. If she gave your father a deadline of three days, then it is only because she needed that long to get all of her pawns in place. Lucien will need to be careful though. If he changes the game she’ll get even more vicious. He will have to tread a fine line to get Serenna away from her intact.”

Grimm paused, thinking back to his own capture. “She likes to toy with her victims as well. She enjoys breaking them,” he said, the words coming out clipped and short. “She will drag out the torture as long as she can. Your father had better brace himself for some serious mind games.”

“She’s the one that cursed you, isn’t she?” Nox said, and a wave of cold, slow-burning anger hit Grimm through their soul-bond.

He gave her a stern look. “You are not going to fight her, short-stuff.”

“Give one good reason why not?” Nox said, her jaw set stubbornly.

“Because it has to be me that takes her out,” he said, with a sad smile. “I am not quite free of my curse yet. Not until she is gone.”

Nox thought about that for a while before grudgingly backing down. “Damn. I was hoping the soul-bond hanging around was just another mistake on Galen’s part.”  She glanced out the window, drumming her fingers on the desk while she thought. “You may need to be the one that delivers the killing blow, but there’s nothing to say you can’t have help to wear her down.”  She turned back and jotted a few more notes on the paper before folding it up into an origami hummingbird and setting an enchantment on it. It flew up off the desk and whizzed around her head three times before disappearing with a pop. Then she reached down and leaned her head under the desk. “Dangit, I know that button is here somewhere.”

“What in the world are you doing?” Grimm said.

She popped her head back up above the edge of the desk. “You can’t fight Katya bare-handed, and that armor is shameful. I won’t have my knight wearing something that’s more hole than metal.” She ducked back down, and a loud click came from inside the desk. “Aha! I forgot about the hidden panel that covers it.”

One of the bookshelves slid silently outward and off to one side to reveal a dimly lit stairwell. “C’mon, I think I may know where you can find a few old friends,” Nox said. She flashed him a quick grin and motioned toward the stairs. “I used to sneak up here all the time when father was away. The combination of a hidden room and all those stories you used to tell me made it impossible to resist. I did play with some of the stuff stored in here though, so I’ll apologize in advance for any wear and tear.”

The room at the top of the stairs was dimly lit by two arrow-slit windows, set at angles to each other. The two beams of light met against the far wall, illuminating a broadsword that hung there point down. As Grimm got closer he realized it wasn’t just any sword, it was his sword. The one Galen had used to knight him, the one he had born through every battle he had ever fought in service to the House of Winds. To its right was an arming stand with his parade armor laid out. The helmet was on the floor, next to a dagger and a tabard which was stained purple with what looked like it might have been grape jelly. His grandfather’s carved wooden chest sat open to the other side. Next to it was his folding camp chair, and a child’s set of jacks was scattered on it.

Grimm cleared off the chair and sat down, his knees too weak to hold him. Everything he had ever owned was here, preserved almost like new. He reached into the chest and pulled out a locket. His hands shook he popped it open, and the smiling faces of parents looked back, painted in miniature on the two halves. He blinked a bit of mist from his eyes and cleared his throat. “Would you mind giving me a few minutes alone?” he asked.

Nox kissed his cheek. “Take all the time you need. I have a few more messages to send anyway.”

Grimm spent the next half hour looking through his old things. He could have spent weeks, but they did not have time for that. Still, he needed to find certain items and they were scattered around the room. As he went through several more chests he found his favorite books, a stack of maps, his journal, some gifts from friends – all the little things a person accumulates over time. Even his clothes were here, although a few looked like that they had been put to use as costumes for one inquisitive little girl.  He chuckled as he thought of a young Nox slaying make-believe dragons with his dagger.

Once he found everything he needed it was only a matter of moments to strip out of his tattered armor and clothes.  He tossed them aside into a corner, not caring if he ever saw them again. The clothes from the chests still had the clean smell of the herbs they had been stored with. He pulled his armor off the stand and buckled it on, pleased to see that he remembered the knack of doing it without having a squire to help. Last but not least, he took down his sword and belted it around his waist. The dagger would need a little cleaning, but he sheathed that as well.

Almost as an afterthought, he pulled a small hand mirror out of the first chest.  There was a portrait hanging to one side, and he set his helmet down and angled it to reflect light onto it. The painting was of a group of Wind Knights, with the city Zephyra in the background. Galen had commissioned it not long after the city was finished being built, to commemorate the day he took them on as his personal guard. Grimm let his eyes wander over the painting. “We were all so young,” he said, with a wistful smile.

He held up the mirror, compared its reflection to the painting of his younger self.  He did not want to waste time fixing all of the scars on his face, but Nox was right. He should at least try to look a bit less like villain from a cheap pulp novel.  And it would be good practice for when he taught her to basic healing techniques.

He began to hum, the sound deep and resonant. Soothing energy flowed over his face, tugging at old scar tissue and making the more recent wounds itch. He turned his head to the side so he could see his ear, and fixed a deep notch in it. Finally, when he felt that he looked a bit less sinister, he stopped humming and let the subtle Air casting go.

Grimm took one last look at the portrait of his closest friends, and raised his hand in a salute. Then he picked up his helmet and tucked it under his arm, and headed back downstairs to find Nox.

The secret door at the bottom of the stairs was locked. He knocked on it a few times. “I’m done, you can open the door.” No one answered. Grimm hammered on it this time. “Nox, answer me. I need you to open the door.” There was no air moving on the other side, and no sounds of anyone breathing. As best he could tell the study was empty. He felt around the edges of the door, looking for a latch or some purchase to grab onto. But all he found was a scrap of paper wedged into one side.  He snatched it out and ran back up a few steps until he had enough light to read it.

“Forget about Katya, you’ve done enough. After two thousand years of taking care of my family, it’s long since time we took care of you. Besides, I’m better at wrangling ghosts than you are. The door will unlock in a few hours.”

Grimm looked down at his bright, shiny armor in disgust and let out a string of curses that rattled the stones around him.  “Bloody Hel, she used this to distract me. Dammit!  She’s got at least a half-hour head start.”

He rushed back up stairs and drew his sword, reversing it in his hand. He let out a wordless shout and slammed the pommel next to one window, blowing it open wide enough for him to fly through. He did not even stop to think; he just leapt out into space and called the winds.

And the winds answered their master’s call. A sonic boom shook the entire mansion, and he was gone.


<–Page 6   –Beginning– Checkmate pt1 ->

A Game of Chess – Endgame, Page 6 March 6, 2012

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

(better late than never, eh? more tonight too!)

Grimm sat across from Nox, with his back against a fallen tombstone. He tried to sit still, but kept shifting position as if he was sitting on tacks. Confused did not begin to cover what he was feeling. He was free of the Shadowkin, but he was still soul-bound to Nox. He knew they needed to talk about what had happened, but the words kept slipping away from him.

Nox started to reach a hand out to him, but dropped it back to her side. “Um, are you okay?”

“What? Oh, yes, sorry,” Grimm lied. “I keep trying to move my tail, and I don’t have one anymore.” He chuckled, shifting again. “Ridiculous, isn’t it? I have dreamt of this for centuries, and now I feel like a stranger in my own skin.”

Nox folded her hands in her lap. He had a feeling he was not fooling her at all.  “You wanted this, right? To get your life back?” she asked, in a small voice.

Grimm gave her a startled look. “Of course I did! I never had a death wish, little one.” He moved to kneel by her side, and covered her hands with his own. Hers were so small, as delicate as porcelain. “I don’t know how you did it, but I am glad. The problem is I keep wanting bark and to lick your cheek. It’s damned embarrassing!”

Her relieved laughter echoed strangely around the graveyard – nothing sounded right to him anymore. “Is that all?” she said. “Here I thought you were upset because I had kept you from moving on. I know some ghosts are unhappy at being held here, and I did take the decision away from you.”

A warm smile lit up his craggy face. “Do not worry on that count, I was never dead. Don’t ask me how Galen managed it, but I have lived for over two thousand years. Thankfully I haven’t physically aged much.” He looked down at his battered, scarred hands, and made a face. “Well, perhaps I am showing a bit of the mileage.”

“You’re an Air kin, which means you’re a healer, right? You can fix yourself up,” Nox said, with an impish grin. “Hel, you can teach me how to do it while you’re at it.”

“I could, couldn’t I?” Memories washed over him, of a time before the war with the Shadowkin. Grimm had spent his entire adult life fighting, until Galen had given him a vision of different life. Zephyra was meant to be a peaceful place, a healing sanctuary. Grimm had planned to give up the sword, and dedicate his life to research and exploration. There was so much more of the world he had wanted to see. If the Shadowkin were gone, he could pick up the pieces and try to make that dream real.

But the Shadowkin were not all gone. Katya was still on the loose, and causing havoc. Grimm had the sneaking suspicion that the soul-bond with Nox would remain until all of his ancient enemies were sent to their final rest.

Muffled shouts caught both of their attention.  Nox sat bolt upright. “Oh crud, I forgot to take down the barrier I set up to contain the blast! Brand is probably having fits, not knowing what happened!” She scrambled to her feet and jogged down the hill, weaving around the piles of shattered gravestones.

Grimm got up a little more slowly, shifting back and forth on his feet and rolling his shoulders to test his balance. He tilted his head up and wrinkled his nose. “Everything smells wrong too.” He sighed, and followed her down to the cemetery gates.

Brand was indeed having a fit. It had only been one day since Lucien designated him as steward, and he had already allowed a large chunk of his Lord’s property to be destroyed.  Both he and all of the guards with him drew their swords as Grimm caught up to Nox.

“Whoa, hold up,” she said. “He’s with me.”

Brand gave him a doubtful look, but motioned for the guards to stand down. “Welcome to the House of Ice, sir knight.”

Grimm was mildly amused to see that Brand had moved to place himself partway between him and Nox while offering to shake his hand. Once a guard captain, always a guard captain. “Come now, don’t you recognize me?” Grimm said. “You used to dare your brother to run in and touch the door of my mausoleum when you were both boys.”

Brand stared hard at him. “My word. It is you, isn’t it?” This time the handshake was more friendly. “Welcome back, sir! Or should I say congratulations? It’s not every day a man gets freed from a curse.”

“You don’t seem too surprised,” Nox said.

“Your father warned me that you might try it. But he also said to try and stop you,” Brand said, with a wince. “I am failing miserably at the tasks he set me.”

Grimm clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t feel bad. I’ve been trying to keep her out of trouble for years, without much success.”

Nox blew a raspberry at the big man. “Ha ha, very funny.  As long as we’re talking about trouble though, we still have some business to take care of. Brand, assign some men to start digging out the undercroft of the mausoleum. I need to know if the portal is still intact.” She moved briskly up the road to the mansion, Brand and Grimm following in her wake. “I’ll also need paper, and a pen, so I can send out a few messages. Is there some in father’s office?”

“Yes, my Lady. He insists on always having a fresh supply to hand.”

She gave a satisfied nod. “Very good. I won’t be here long, so you’ll need to stay on as steward for another day or two.”

Brand stopped at the entry of the courtyard and bowed. “As you wish, Lady Ice. Will you be needing anything else?”

“A bucket load of luck. I think I may have just used all of mine up with that last stunt,” she said, with a wry smile. She tucked her arm behind Grimm’s. “C’mon, you big lug. I need to pick your brains about the Shadowkin that got loose.”

“Yes, we do need to talk about that,”Grimm said. “There’s only one of them. And she may well be the most powerful of them all.”

“She?” Nox said, with a raised eyebrow. “Do you know her name?”

“Oh yes,” Grimm said, wishing he still had a hounds ears, so he could flatten them. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget it…”


<–Page 5   –Beginning–  Page 7 ->

Episode 100 – quick update March 5, 2012

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Hello all!  You know, it always happens – the minute I set a hard deadline, life conspires to make sure I can’t meet it 😉  Work took over my weekend, so I will be posting the last 2 segments over the next couple days.

thanks for being so patient!

-Angie

A Game of Chess – Endgame, Page 5 March 3, 2012

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

The night had gone from bad to worse. Viktor’s destruction had rattled all of the ghosts, and then Nox was shaken by two conflicting distress calls from Grimm – one begging her to go out, the other to stay put. Both voices sent echoes of pain through the soul-bond, enough to make Nox ache down to her bones.

The last straw came just before dawn, in the form of a single blackened lump of glass. Nox clenched it in her fist, heedless of the residual heat burning into her palm. She had no doubt that it had been made by Loki – she could see his energy signature, blazing in a scarlet corona around it. There was nothing left of the hallway where the ghosts found it, just shattered rock and a few slagged pieces of glass like the one in her hand.

The Shadowkin were destroying everyone she loved. Her family, Grimm, and now it looked like they had gotten to Loki as well. The ghosts expected her to fall apart. They were even now quietly making plans for what to do if she could not go on.

They didn’t know her well at all.

She bored a hole in the glass, threaded it on a piece of string and hung it around her neck. Then, with it tucked safely inside her shirt, she set about building an arsenal.

Everything Nox needed was here in Galen’s lab, shelves full of things that would blow up nicely if mixed the wrong (or right) way. She made darts out of ice, and froze caustic powders to their tips. She carved purposefully flawed casting marks on their shafts to make them splinter on command. More chemicals were packed with flash powder into small, multi-chambered ice globes, each one primed to blow on impact as the different substances mixed. By the time she was done her satchel was bulging with an array of destructive little bundles, each cocooned in a protective spell to keep them from breaking before she was ready.

She motioned the ghost knights to gather around her. “All right gentlemen. It’s time to get down to business. There are a few hundred Shadowkin that need their asses handed to them. You know my plan – I just need to get back to Grimm’s old crypt to pull it off.”

The ghosts all pounded a fist to their chests in a salute. “We are ready, Lady Zephyr!” Evan said, his eyes gleaming silver in the early morning light. They gathered by the door, and Nox palmed one of her little bombs.

The Shadowkin were waiting for them. Oily black spears shot out from nowhere, impaling two of the ghosts before the door had finished opening. There were hooks in the spears, and they dragged the semi-corporeal ghosts with them as they retracted back down the hall.

Nox lobbed the first bomb over their heads and covered her face as the concussion wave blew back toward her.  The spears disintegrated, freeing the ghost from whatever dark enchantment had held them. One of them waved her on. “Go, go! We’ll hold them as long as we can!”

Nox whipped another bomb down the hall for good measure, and smiled as she ran just ahead of the blast. A dozen ghosts stayed behind, and the same number surrounded her. There was no need to hide their presence now, so they summoned the winds to lift her over any obstacles.

A mere handful of minutes later, a blood-curdling howl erupted not far behind them. Nox cursed, and scattered more of the ice grenades around the hallway. “Dammit, I bet mother cooked up something let them to hurt you all. Evan, plan B, harass and delay.”

Evan let out a piercing whistle, and got one back in reply to acknowledge the signal.  The ghosts peeled off from the group by twos, each pair heading down a side corridor.

Nox flew through the castle, sowing tiny frozen seeds of destruction in her wake. Evan and Liam were the only ghosts left with her, but she could hear the others battling in the distance.  More explosions erupted, followed by howls of rage.  The knights began to chant, weaving protections around Nox as the sounds of battle grew closer.

They turned down one corridor, and another, winding their way back out of the castle until they finally came to the portal that would take Nox home. Evan opened it just as the Shadowkin smashed through the wall behind them.  “Go, my Lady!” he said, and shoved her through.

Nox stumbled, turned around and flung a handful of darts back through the portal. They whizzed through the air, gaining speed as the casting marks poured energy into them. The beast roared as they hit, then shrieked as they splintered and drove even deeper into its hide.  It stopped, eyes locked on Nox, and a wave of dark energy rolled out from it.

The knights drew their swords, and closed the portal.

Nox sprinted up the stairs to the mausoleum, startling the guards her father had left there. “Out, get out, all of you! Now, that’s an order!”

They didn’t argue – the howls and explosions from the undercroft were more than enough  to convince them to move. Nox hurried to the door of the crypt, and slammed it shut behind them. She looked up at the scrap of blue sky visible through the oculus in the roof and drew in a draft of Air.

Energy swirled down into the room, coiling around her in a silken skein of electric blue light. Nox backed up until her back was against the door, and she reached up on tiptoe to touch the lintel. The energy siphoned off, filling the casting marks carved into its edges and cascading through the ones in the room.

A dark presence filled the entrance to the undercroft, its eyes glowing brimstone red. It clawed its way out of the stairwell and crouched on top of the crypt, hundreds of voices hissing out of its jaws.  “There is nowhere left to run, and you are not strong enough to fight us. Your dear mother saw to that,” they said, and let out a chorus of rasping laughter. “We were going to make your end quick, but after your little surprises, we plan to make this last. Do you think your father will hear your screams?”

“Maybe,” Nox said, and she reached out to a different set of carvings in the door. “But I’m sure he’ll hear yours.”

The crypt slid shut over the stairs, placing the beast dead-center in the room. It crouched lower and hung on, claws digging into the granite. As soon as the way was shut, the circuit was closed and all the casting marks lit up at once, blindingly bright. The beast bunched its legs and leapt straight up at the oculus, but an invisible force dragged it back down and slammed it onto the slab.

Nox walked calmly forward and sent her aura out in a figure eight across the floor, with the smaller loop around her, and the larger around the crypt. Casting marks burst into life like cold blue flames, the energy feeding into the larger half and powering Galen’s construct.  “You see, I don’t have to be strong enough to fight you. I just have to be smarter than you, and mad enough not to care if this thing blows us both to Hel.”

The beast snarled, its teeth inches from her face. “You’re bluffing. If you destroy me, you kill the guardian as well.”

Nox gave him a cold, humorless smile. “I know Grimm better than anyone. If it means getting rid of you, he’ll be okay with it.”

The beast lunged at her, but was pulled up short. More casting marks flared into life around the construct, covering every surface in the room. Nox felt the hair on her arms stand on end, and the beast began to thrash and howl. The room shook as it fought the enchantment, and cracks began to form in the stones. Nox looked up, just as a chunk fell loose and plummeted toward her.

It stopped just above her head. A shadowy figure of a huge man stood beside her, shielding her from the rain of stone that began to fall. His deep voice rumbled in her ear. “You were right. I will gladly go if I can take them with me.”

“Grimm! What took you so long?” Nox shouted over the din. He laughed and gave her a broad smile.

Now that all the pieces were in place, she flung a hand up to the oculus, and drew in more energy, sending it rocketing through the construct. “Here goes nothing!” she said.

The last series of casting marks lit up, centered just beneath the beast. It writhed and screamed as the lines of light flowed around it, and it began to slowly unravel. As each black tendril faded away, the voices died as well, fading into nothing.

Soon the beast had lost all shape, and the light surrounding it turned gold. The silence was so loud Nox could hear the blood rushing in her ears. A final casting mark burned in the air above the crypt like a fallen star, its light beating in the rhythm of a heart.

Grimm squeezed her hand, and stepped forward as the light shot straight toward them. The whole world seemed to inhale and hold its breath, and then let it out in a sonic boom.

The next thing Nox knew, she was lying in a heap on the ground outside in the graveyard. Every tombstone was flattened, and the mausoleum was smoking crater in the ground. She could hear someone coughing nearby, and she gingerly turned her aching head toward the sound.

A knight lay there, his armor battered, and his face was criss-crossed with scars. He held up a hand, staring at it in wonder as he opened and closed it. Grimm turned to her, an incredulous look on his face. “I’m alive!”


<–Page 4   –BeginningPage 6 ->

Episode 100 Bonus – World Building: The Elements March 2, 2012

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(Apologies for not posting this last night, I fell asleep on the couch! *doh* There will be another segment of the short story going up later tonight, one tomorrow night, and wrapping up on Sunday night.)

Back to world building! Today, I want to talk about another of the major factors that shapes the world of Nox and Grimm – the Elements.

I realized early on that I needed to work out just what the Elemental kindreds are, and how they are both like, and unlike us. They have to be somewhat like us, or Nox couldn’t have been born, right? But different enough to let you know you are not in our world any more.  I decided to go all the way back to the Big Bang theory to come up with the solution.

In the beginning, there was only one dimension, but some event caused it to shatter into a zillion pieces. Each piece is like a warped reflection of the original, moving slowly outwards through space. The theory is that our world, and that of Nox and Grimm’s, were one piece that fractured sometime after the original event. The pieces are still caught in each other’s gravity though, and bump up against each other from time to time as the circle around.

Since the worlds are so close, elementals and humans are somewhat similar in appearance and biology. The difference is that the kindreds favor the elements they channel.– Ice kin are all tall and pale, Earth kin are broad shouldered and stocky, Fire kin are lean and have red hair, etc.  Their appearance has very little to do with physical fitness, however, they are quite literally shaped by the elements. And, if they change the elements they channel, over time their appearance will change.

Now, let’s get to the elements themselves. When the two worlds split, the raw energies that make them up were sundered as well. In our world, the energy is weak and must be gathered through elaborate spells and rituals (sorcery), and behaves by a different set of rules.  In Nox’s world, the raw matter of the elements is incredibly powerful, and it permeates everything that lives there. The kindreds are all born with the natural ability to channel and shape the elements, without any outside aids such as wands or summoning circles.

Over time, however, the kindreds have found ways to magnify the natural energy they channel. This is where casting marks come in. Unlike human spell casting, which can draw from any energy source, casting marks draw solely from the elements. Think of them as very specialized runes or glyphs. They work like a water turbine – they open the sluice gate, and let the water in. It picks up speed as it flows, turning the blades of the turbine, which is attached to gears, that turn gear shafts and can be used to power all sorts of tools, with an endless variety of results.

Casting marks are extremely dangerous, however. If the lines do not connect up precisely, or have a proper exit to vent the fast moving energy after it leaves the ‘turbine’ section of the mark, it can have deadly consequences. Nox has come close to blowing herself into the hereafter on more than one occasion, especially when she starts tinkering with mixing different types of energy together. Normally casting marks deal with only one type of energy. Different types of energy move in different ways, and at different speeds. Trying to take all the variables into account is why she, and her ancestor Galen, are so anal retentive about keeping detailed notes of the properties of every substance they use to make a casting mark. It has to be strong and/or flexible enough to withstand the forces moving through it.

You may be asking, how do some of the kindreds channel more than one element, if mixing them is so dangerous? The answer is simple – any combination that happens in nature will be reflected inside of them. Ice is a mix of cold air and water, volcanoes mix fire and earth, and so on. If you figure out what natural feature a kindred favors, you can figure out what elements they’ll use. Lucien has an affinity for glaciers, Loki volcanoes, Nox is the north wind, etc.

So there you have it, a quick peek into the inner workings of the elements. I hope you are enjoying these little looks into the background as much as I have coming up with them. J Watch this space for more episode 100 goodness!

-Angie

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