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

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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(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 ->

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Comments»

1. Mari Juniper - March 13, 2012

Whaaaaa? I finally catch up and get caught in one if your cliffhangers? You have got to be kidding me! I hate you. 😛

Wonderful how the story is moving forward. I’m a bit sad though, as I see the end is getting close. You better write this damn novel, so I won’t miss Nox and Grimm for too long. Well done you! 😀

2. Sharon - March 16, 2012

Holy cats! It’s wonderful, but ARGH!!!! 🙂

I look forward to the next chapter. *bites fingernails*


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