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A Game of Chess – Checkmate (2 of 2 concluded) April 28, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Loki had abandoned himself to the elements as he chased down his uncle, becoming more a being of fire than of flesh. He raced through the mountains like a wildfire and the peaks glowed scarlet as he passed. He could see Balor’s rear guard, their horses struggling to make it over the pass into the valley beyond. Loki knew if he let them reach it he would be in for a fight – right now they were in the shadow of the mountains, but the other side would be in full sunlight. They were still too far for a warcasting to reach them, however.

He could feel the dragon mark coiling restlessly around his arm. These mountains were riddled with magma chambers, seething with the raw, untamed power of the earth’s lifeblood. Loki could have dropped the entire mountain on their heads, but when fighting with Fire it was not so much a matter of what he could do, as it was deciding how much collateral damage he was willing to cause. The House of Ice and a city of thousands lay just to the north and west of here, and they would suffer far more than those he pursued if the mountain blew. So he kept the dragon quiet and drew only on the energy nearest the surface.

The chase wore on, up and up into the snow clad peaks, with Loki steadily gaining ground. A group of New Dawn soldiers wheeled their horses around and stopped at the top of the pass. The sun was slowly rising at their backs and they raised up their golden discs to capture its rays.

Loki shook his head. “You poor bastards. You’re in my way.”

From the look of shock on their faces they must have expected him to slow down to fight. Instead, he took two running steps, planted a boot on a rock and vaulted into the air, his blades flashing out to the sides as he passed. The two lead cultists toppled from their horses and the rest shot wildly at him as he darted through their ranks, hitting their own people in the cross fire. It took all of a moment for him to break through and take the higher ground. He sketched a quick warcasting mark in ground with his saber and pockets of sulfurous gas trapped beneath the surface exploded in their midst. Their horses went wild with fear and ran off, throwing their riders in their haste to escape.

Loki did not wait to see if any of them survived. His uncle was getting further away with every second he wasted here.  He turned and raced up the last few switchbacks of the pass. The bright sun blinded him for a moment as he crossed out of the shadow of the peaks, and he stepped back behind a boulder to let his eyes adjust.

It was well that he did, because it was the only thing that saved his life.  An army waited on the slopes beyond and the impact of their mass warcasting knocked him to the ground as it hammered into the mountainside. He scrambled further behind the spur of rock as more beams of light shattered the stones around him. “Bloody Hel!” Loki cursed. “Where did he get all those men?”

He risked a quick glance around the edge of the rocks to assess this new enemy force. New Dawn soldiers were ranged out across the mountainside in small blocks, with robed priests shouting commands from the back of each group. A second barrage started eating away at his cover, forcing him to dash to a more secure spot.  He took another quick look as he ran and let out a string of curses. Only the priests had golden hair, all the rest had shades of red and silver and copper and brown. These were men and boys like the ones he had rescued months before;  prisoners, tortured and stripped of their elements and given no choice but to allow themselves to be ‘converted’ into Sun kindreds if they wanted to live. And now they were being forced to fight for their captors. Anger caused his control of the dragon to slip again, and the snow around him vaporized from the sudden heat.

One of the priests called out to him. “We know you are there, unholy prince. Surrender, or you will surely die here in the cold, bitter north!”

“Unholy prince?” Loki said, perplexed, and yelled back down to them. “The title is Lord Dragon. You know what that means, and if you have any sense you will lay down your weapons and leave while you have the chance.”

“Do your worst, demon! The Sun will always prevail over the power of the underworld!”

It finally dawned on Loki what the priest was talking about. His uncle must have cast him as the villain in his crackpot mythology –which was annoying, but it gave him an idea to get out of this mess without having to fight those poor conscripts. He grinned and placed a palm on the ground.  “The sun is a long way away. You might want to rethink your allegiance.”

The mountain grumbled as Loki let loose an Earth casting, sounding like a crochety old man being woken from slumber. It growled its displeasure, shifted and belched out plumes of ash and gas from a host of fissures that opened like gaping maws. Cries of dismay told him his gambit was working, the warcastings dying off as the ash slowly blotted out the sun. “I’ll give you one more chance,” he said, his voice roaring like a blast furnace. “Lay down your weapons.”

“Why should they, when we all know you will not kill my new recruits.”

Balor’s voice was unmistakable. At the sound of it something inside Loki snapped, and he drew in so much energy his skin turned molten. He jumped up onto a boulder, heedless of the fact that he was making himself an easy target.  “I’m shocked to see you uncle, considering how fast you were running. Feeling a little more brave with an army between us?”

Balor strode to the front of his troops, the bright gold of his armor shining despite the ashen gloom around him. “You have something of mine, nephew.”

“If you want the dragon mark, come and get it!” Loki said, pointing his saber toward Balor’s head. “If you ask nicely, I’ll even make it quick.”

“So be it. A duel then,” Balor said, and to Loki’s surprise he drew his sword and walked up the slope. “Winner takes the dragon.”

It had to be a trap. Balor never risked his own neck; the man was as yellow as his armor. Loki did not have anyone to stand as his second to watch for treachery either. But here was the chance he had waited sixteen long years for, to take down the man that murdered his family. “Done!” he said. He flung out his hand and flames shot across the ground, marking the boundary of the dueling ring. Balor raised his hand and the sun burned through the haze, bathing the entire circle Loki had marked out in light.

As far as Loki was concerned that ended the formalities. He launched himself at Balor, his saber crashing down on his uncle’s hastily raised sword with all the weight he could put behind the blow. Balor staggered back, but used his greater weight to push Loki away.

Loki went with the shove instead of fighting it, landing perfectly balanced with one foot behind him in a fencers’ stance. He advanced again, his saber flicking in to test his uncle’s guard. They exchanged a flurry of blows that ended with Loki putting a gash in his uncle’s vambrace. Balor responded by twisting his sword to catch the sunlight.  Casting marks engraved in the polished metal blazed forth, and a flick of his wrist sent them flying at Loki’s feet.

The ground heaved, and a spur of rock surged up between Loki’s feet even as the ground directly beneath them fell away, dropping him downwards. He threw himself backwards to avoid being un-manned. “Now that’s just mean,” he said, rolling up rolling up to one knee. “But if you want to fight dirty, so be it!”

He formed a chain out of flames in his left hand and flicked it at Balor’s face, surging to his feet as his uncle flinched. He whipped the chain out again, tangling it around the cross guard of his uncle’s sword and yanking it out of his grip. Balor was pulled forward as well, but he turned the stumble into a spin and formed a short spear out of light, jabbing it at Loki as he passed. Loki sliced across in a draw-cut with his saber, and they both backed off with a small gash in their sides.

Balor struck a heroic pose as he aimed the spear at Loki, no doubt trying to impress his followers. A single thought from Loki reshaped the dragon mark. The saber melted as the dragon moved, coiling about his hand to form a gauntlet. The spear screamed toward him, burning the air as it passed but Loki caught it with contemptuous ease. The golden light turned into scarlet flames as he spun it around and hurled it back. Balor was ready though, holding a shield made of light. The spear smashed against it, the flames only licking around the edges.

Balor created another spear and stood poised with it raised in the air. “Now brothers, join with me!”

“Leave them out of it, uncle!” Loki said, reforming his saber and advancing again. “This is between you and me.”

Balor ignored him, a wild light in his eyes. “Join with me, and we will unleash the light that hides in the heart of the world!”

The priests started chanting and Loki could see them raising their sun discs out of the corner of his eye.  Loki braced himself for the impact, but their enchantment was not aimed at him. Beams of light ripped through the gloom and the conscripts froze, trapped like flies in a web. The beams shot out further, connected to each of the priests stationed behind the troops to form one massive casting mark. The conscripts began to collapse as the construct slowly drained them.

Balor laughed as Loki moved to help them. “Go on, boy. Cross the dueling circle. Forfeit the dragon to me.”

The jaws of the trap had shut. If Loki crossed that line the law would be on his uncle’s side and he would have the Lords of every House to back up his claim to the dragon. There was only one way out of this. Loki exploded into action, closing in on Balor so fast that he no time to get a defense in place. He smashed the spear out of his uncle’s hand and body slammed him, knocking the bigger man back on his heels. The second Balor was off balance Loki moved in to grapple with him, twisting Balor’s arm behind his back and holding the saber across his throat.

“Stop that casting!” Loki shouted.

“Finish it!” Balor said, still wrestling to break free of the arm lock.  He twisted and the saber sliced a thin line across his neck, splattering Loki’s arm with blood.  It sizzled as it hit the dragon mark and Balor shifted his grip to dig his hand into Loki’s forearm.

A pain like nothing Loki had ever known brought him to his knees.  His saber disappeared and the dragon mark began to rip itself away from him, the ink rising to the surface of his skin and beading like oily black blood. Loki convulsed uncontrollably as it slid toward Balor’s hand  – the mark had been embedded in his psyche for so long that each drop of ink lost felt like a piece of his soul being ripped out.

“Our blood commands the dragon, boy,” Balor said, wrestling Loki to the ground. “A pity your father did not live long enough to tell you all its secrets.” He held out his free hand to the priests, “Now, brothers!”

The clouds boiled away as the casting was unleashed, and the skies opened. A solid beam of light shot down into Balor’s hand, forming a new spear. Energy from the dragon filled its core and the shaft turned scarlet . Balor drew the spear back, triumphant, and slammed it into the ground.

That moment would remain burned into Loki’s mind for years to come. The sound as the mountain exploded. The force of the blast that sent house sized boulders miles into the air. The look of horror on both the priests and the conscripts faces just before the pyroclastic cloud rolled over them. His uncle standing amidst the chaos, laughing like a madman.

Balor reached down and grabbed Loki by the throat. “Now you, Lucien, and everyone who has defied me will die screaming, just like your precious little half-blood did.”

Nox. His vision started to black out as Balor tightened his grip, but he could still see Nox in his mind’s eye. It was the last day they spent together, and she had a mischievous smile on her face that put dimples in her cheeks. She had taken his shirt off, supposedly to study the dragon mark. “Careful luv,” he had said. “It’s got a mind of its own.” She laughed and ran a hand down his arm. “It’s just psycho-reactive ink, silly. It only acts sentient because you think it should.”

His head was spinning from shock and lack of oxygen, but he held onto that thought. The dragon mark would do whatever he told it to. Loki quit trying to free himself and grabbed a chunk of rock, slashing his own palm. Then he slapped it against his uncle’s forearm and sent his will surging through the dragon mark.

Balor reeled back but the dragon coiled like an ouroborus around their wrists, tying them together. He stared at the dragon, a hint of fear in his eyes. “What are you doing, leave him!”

“You forfeited any right to it when that casting broke the dueling circle.” Loki ordered the dragon to dig in, playing on his uncle’s fears and planting the doubts that would make him believe he could not control it. “The dragon is mine.”

“You’re wrong. It came to me!” Balor said, but his eyes were wild and he started to shake as the claws tore into his wrist.

A single thought from Loki made the dragon rear up, its jaws agape. “You broke the law. The dragon will never serve you now.” Its head darted forward and sunk its teeth into Balor’s veins.

Balor screamed as his own fears broke what little control he had left. All of the glamours he wore disappeared – his armor turned dull and his hair fell away, and lines sunk deep into his face leaving him a withered husk.

Loki looked on in disgust at the wreckage of a man that huddled before him. “This is where the Sun gets you?” he said. “I could almost pity you. Almost.” He steeled himself to finish the job, reforming the saber.  “I did say I would make it quick.”

Something overhead shrieked. An oily black shadow swooped down and landed, crouching over Balor. Its leaf green eyes bored into Loki’s, radiating such an aura of evil that he instinctively stepped back.

It hissed at him and bared needle sharp teeth. “Not today, dark prince. I’m not done playing with my golden toy.”

“Shadowkin,” he said, radiating enough heat to incinerate the poison it spat at him. “It was you behind everything, wasn’t it? Balor, Serenna, New Dawn. They are all just Shadowkin in training, even if they don’t know it.”

“Very good, dear boy,” it cackled. “You didn’t honestly think this wretch could have planned it all? The first thing I did was have him murder his own brother. Your father was wise to hide the dragon then, or it would have all been over long since.”

Loki’s head was clear now, empty of any emotion. “You would not be telling me this if you thought I could stop you.” The mountain heaved beneath them, and he could sense the pressure building.

The Shadowkin began dragging Balor away. “You really are a smart little duck. You know you’ll get a chance to fight me again. But the mountain?” it said, glancing up at the ash jetting out of the peak, “the mountain won’t wait.”

The fissure Balor had opened with his spear erupted, spewing fountains of magma into the air. By the time it Loki cleared a path through it, the Shadowkin and its ‘toy’ were gone.

Loki looked down into the crevasse, sick and weary to his bones. After days of fighting without rest he wanted nothing more than to lie down and let the mountain do its worst. He wasn’t even sure it was possible to stop a volcano once it started to erupt. The thing was just so bloody big.

A sad smile crossed his face. Nox used to joke that the whole world was bigger than her, but she never let that stop her. And he wouldn’t either. He took a deep breath and let it out, squared his shoulders and headed down into the dark.

Three weeks later…

Anders checked the myriad of protective spells he had draped all around him. If any one of them failed his mission would go up in flames. Literally. He looked up at the smoking mountain with more than a bit of trepidation. “Red, how do you get me into things like this?”

The Storm kin picked his way across the broken ground to a gaping fissure that led down into the mountain’s heart. He paused again at the entrance, mopping the sweat that poured from his brow. “Okay. I only have to go in for a few minutes. Or maybe only one minute. Just long enough,” he said, and shook his head. “I can’t believe I volunteered for this.”

He knew a minute wasn’t good enough though. How could he face Nox without finding out for sure if Loki was alive or dead?  He plunged into the dark entrance and half ran down the slope until he stubbed his toe on a stone.  A few blistering curses later he was walking more sedately down to the hellish depths.

Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw at the tunnels end.  The rough-hewn chamber glowed, the light pulsing as if it was a heartbeat. Fiery casting marks crawled across the walls, radiating out from a dark figure that stood in the far end of the room. It looked like a statue, its skin black and cracked like the cooled crust of lava flow.  Its hands were buried in the rock and every muscle stood out, straining as if it were trying to hold the mountain back by sheer brute strength. But there was no sign of life, only twin beams of crimson light shining out from where its eyes had been.

Anders felt blindly behind him for the wall and slumped against it, horrified at what had become of his friend. “You stupid, dimwitted, pigheaded idiot! What did I tell you about playing the hero?  No good comes of it, you know only wastrels like me live to see an old age. But no, you had get a fancy title and let it go to your head.”

He would have kept ranting but his mouth had gone dry. “Damn it,” he croaked. “You still owe me a few beers.”

Something flickered in the dark. Anders blinked, and pushed himself away from the wall. Had the statue just smirked?  He moved as close as he dared, the heat making his skin feel as dry as the statue looked. “I have a message for you. Nox sends her love.”

There was no mistaking it this time. The light from Loki’s eyes burned more brightly, and shifted toward Anders.

“I told you she’d make it. Not unscathed, but she’s recovering. She misses you, goodness knows why,” Anders said. “She asked me to pass along a kiss, but neither of us would enjoy that. So you’ll have to take my word for it.”

Bits of ash flaked from the corners of Loki’s mouth as his mouth cracked open. “Tell…her…” he said, his voice echoing hollowly through the chamber.

“Yeah, I know what to tell her,” Anders said, grinning. “Save your strength. Help is on the way, they are sending to House Vulcan for an expert to pry you out of here. So hang on, you hear me, Red?”

Loki’s eyes closed. “Go.”

The mountain began to rumble, and Anders looked nervously around the room. “Gotcha boss, I’m going. But I’ll be back. Someone’s got to keep you from doing anything else stupid.”  Anders couldn’t tell if the statue smiled again or not. He was too busy beating a hasty retreat back to the surface. His mission was a success though, and he couldn’t wait to give Nox the good news.


<–Checkmate pt#2-b  –Beginning– Next->

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A Game of Chess – Checkmate (2 of 2 continued) April 28, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Grimm found Lucien in the mountains west of the retreat. It was the first time the two of them had ever met as equals, a fact that he intended to make his former master well aware of. He would not have come at all, but the ghost Lucien sent to fetch him threatened to scream in his ear non-stop unless he agreed to help.

Grimm flew in low and landed with his sword in hand. “Do not think that you can summon me anymore,” he growled. “I am only here to help Nox.”

“I know that,” Lucien said, and to Grimm’s surprise did not make any attempt to control him. His sword was sheathed and his hands were out where they could be seen. “The Shadowkin have Serenna. If you can still pull off a death sleep enchantment I will get on my knees and beg for your help, if it makes you happy.”

Lucien. Begging. The very thought was enough to rock Grimm back on his heels. Part of him wanted to say ‘let her rot,’ for what she had done to Nox. But he was a Wind Knight, and Serenna could not be held entirely responsible for what she did under the Shadowkin’s malign influence. Who knew that better than him? He sheathed his sword and searched his memory for the appropriate casting marks. “Yes, I can do it, but the death sleep will not affect a spirit.”

“Will it work on a human?” Lucien asked.

Comprehension dawned on Grimm. “You clever bastard. That just might work. It’s risky though, and I can’t guarantee that there won’t be any side effects.”

Lucien ran a hand through his hair. “I do not see that I have any other options. If Serenna remains in their hands she may as well be dead.”

Grimm shrugged. “It’s your call. I hope you are a good actor, Katya won’t be easy to fool.”

“Katya?” Lucien said, with an eyebrow raised.

“The Shadowkin.”

“You have a history?”

“She gave me the fur suit and tail,” Grimm said, annoyed. “Are we done with the questions?”

“Just one more,” Lucien said, giving him a measuring look. “Will you have a problem if you need to fight her?”

“None at all,” Grimm said, baring his teeth.  He turned and lifted his face to the wind. “It’s blowing west. If Katya sees the trees bending the wrong way she will know I’m coming. We’ll have to circle around and hit them from the east. Secure your weapons.”

Moments later they were soaring through the upper atmosphere. Grimm steered them around to the south and back east in a broad loop, careful to keep above the clouds to hide their movements. He glanced over to check on Lucien, and chuckled as he saw the fierce grin on the Ice Lord’s normally sober face. “Am I going to have to give you flying lessons as well?” he asked.

“That might not be a bad idea. Aerial reconnaissance does have its advantages,” Lucien said, pointing down.

A large, ornate building sat near the edge of a wooded bluff in the foothills of the mountains.  Further up into the hills figures moved, and Grimm caught the glint of the golden discs that New Dawn troops always wore. “Oh Hel, is Katya working with Balor?”

“Possibly. I had feared that very thing, so I sent Loki out to keep his uncle occupied,” Lucien said, frowning. “Something must have gone wrong.”

Grimm put them into a slow circling pattern so that they could survey the whole area.  “I found your wife. There is a green glow coming from near the building.” He swept a hand lightly across the clouds below them, thinning them out just enough to see through but not enough to let the hot sun on their backs cast man-shaped shadows on the ground.

“There were not so many trees around the building before,” Lucien said. “I had hoped flying here would not leave the Shadowkin enough time to prepare a welcome. Apparently she moves very fast.”

Grimm made an exasperated sound. “She knew you were coming, and you didn’t think to tell me?”

“I was busy chasing her when you caught up to me. I assumed you knew.”

“Have I mentioned how much I hate working with you?” Grimm said, and readied a few warcastings. “There’s no point in trying to spot a Forest kindred from the air, so we might as well spring her trap. We’re going in fast – I hope you have a strong stomach.”

He did not wait to hear Lucien’s answer. One second they were hovering above the clouds, and the next they were diving headlong through them. Despite the dire situation Grimm could not help but grin as the thin, chill air whistled past them. His element flowed through his veins like the sweetest wine, and he let the heady energy fill him until it felt like he would explode. For one glorious moment he hung exultant between heaven and earth.

And then Nox’s scream hit him.

The next thing Grimm remembered was something cold hitting him in the face.  Lucien had a snowball in his hand and was yelling at him. “Wake up, damn you!  The ground is coming up fast!”

Grimm wiped snow from his eyes and hurriedly pulled them up into a steep curve, skimming along the treetops.  The branches swayed and reached out for them, and Grimm had to whip through a few wild turns to avoid them.

“Look out!” Lucien yelled, as another branch shot up into their path.

Grimm slung Lucien beneath it and let him drop to the ground.  Freed of the extra weight, Grimm was able to rocket upwards in a twisting spiral, turning and diving around the flailing branches. He needed to gain altitude but they were swiftly weaving a net around him, cutting of his air flow and forcing him down.

From the muffled curses coming from below it did not sound like Lucien was faring any better.  A loud WHOOOSH was followed by a jet of scalding water shooting upward. Grimm dodged around it only to be nabbed by a prickly pine branch that slammed him to the ground.

Lucien cut through the branch and gave him a hand up. “Tree roots are ripping openings into the reservoir for the hot springs,” he said, flinging up a wall of ice to protect them from another geyser.

“I will hear them before they blow,” Grimm offered, and Lucien nodded.

Just like that they stood shoulder to shoulder, all differences put aside. There was something to be said for the wisdom that comes with age, Grimm thought. “Nox is that way,” he said, pointing to their left. “Can you clear a hole in the canopy to get some air moving?”

Lucien eyed up the solid roof of branches over them. “Yes. Where is the next geyser?”

Grimm tilted his head a little to the side, listening. “Three o-Clock!” he said, pulling Lucien out of its path.

Lucien flung a net of frost out and formed a tight cone around the geyser. The water blasted up through the branches, leaving a small patch of blue sky overhead.

Grimm did not waste any time. He pulled down the Air so fast that it ripped more branches off in its wake, and he sent it whirling around the clearing in a roaring vortex. Lucien added wickedly sharp chunks of ice to the cyclone.  “Eleven o-Clock,” Grimm said, and they ran toward the next geyser, using it as they had the first to keep blasting new air holes. The whirling mass shredded everything in its path, and the trees began to shift out of their way.  “I’d say we have her attention. If I know Katya at all, she’ll start throwing things next.”

He was not disappointed. The retreating trees bowed down and began ripping boulders out of the earth. Lucien held out his hand, the white mark on his palm glowing, and all the rocks shattered as they flew toward them.  “Lucky for us the dead are so predictable. I think that is why I never fully trusted you; you did not act like a normal spirit.”

Grimm gathered up the next volley of stones in the vortex and hurled them back at the trees with a grunt of effort. “A shame you never figured out I was still alive. Might have saved you some worry.”  His Air casting faltered slightly as they heard Nox’s voice again, mingled with Serenna’s.  She was crying out a chant to counter her mother’s spell, and was inadvertently draining the energy out Grimm through their soul-bond to power it.

Lucien blasted another hole through the canopy overhead. “Is she going to make it?” he said, and Grimm could hear the worry in his voice.

A mocking female voice cut through the roar of the vortex. “Not if I have any say in it.”  The trees thinned out and Grimm could see Nox lying spread-eagled on the ground, her wrists and ankles covered in blood from straining against her bonds. Serenna knelt beside her, eyes vacant and her body swaying in time to the incantation she repeated over and over.

Katya sat on a small shrine with her legs crossed demurely, one hand reaching out to extinguish the flames on a set of candles. “Hello, lover. Did you miss me?”

“Obviously, but I’ll aim more carefully this time,” Grimm snarled and let loose a warcasting. The winds howled with the same eerie sound he used to make when he was a hound, and the entire roof of the building tore off and scythed low across the shrine, just missing the top of Serenna’s head as it passed.

There was nowhere for Katya to run, not from something that huge. She should have been annihilated, but all she did was flicker out like the candle flames and re-appear crouched next to Serenna. Her silvery laughter filled the air. “My, you have gotten vindictive with age! But if you want to destroy me, I’m afraid you will have to kill the little sorceress here.”

Grimm shrugged, and let loose another enchantment. “I never liked her anyway.”

Lucien let out an inarticulate cry and dove at him, but it was too late. Serenna’s eyes bulged as she gasped out her last breath. Her face turned blue and she toppled over, crossing the line of her circle and canceling it out.

Lucien grappled with Grimm, his face set in a rictus of rage. “You are dead! I will never forgive this!”

Katya laughed so hard she had to wipe tears from her eyes. “You fell for it! Oh, my darling Grey, you are such a treasure! Did you really think I wouldn’t learn from you? I have another anchor to keep me in this world. But thank you for freeing me from this one, she was getting tedious.”

“This isn’t over!” Grimm said, but it was all he could do to keep Lucien from wringing his neck.

Katya just smiled and blew him a kiss before disappearing.

Lucien suddenly eased up.  “Is she gone?” he said, quietly

Grimm pushed him away and hurried to Serenna’s side. “Yes, Katya never gloats unless she thinks she’s already won.” He put a hand to Serenna’s throat and air wheezed back into her lungs. He whispered another enchantment and a more normal color returned to her face. “Well, she survived it, but as to how she’ll be when she wakes up is anyone’s guess. Where did you get the idea for using the death-sleep anyway?” he asked, moving to work on Nox.

“Galen speculated that inducing a death-like state would force out a possessing spirit, but he never got a chance to test it.” Lucien said. He knelt by his wife and brushed a hand over her hair. “I never thought I would have to, either.”

“No time for sentiment,” Grimm said. “We need to get these two out of here. Any idea how to break those chains?”

“The spell should have ended when the circle broke,” Lucien said.

Nox let out a hoarse whisper. “Spell tied to me, not her. Necklace. Fire breaks ‘em.”

“Hush, little one,” Grimm said, amazed that she was still conscious. He gently took the blood-crusted piece of glass from her neck and poured healing energy into her. “Your throat is a mess, don’t try to talk.”

Lucien took the necklace from Grimm and carefully blew across it, while simultaneously keeping any of Nox’s skin that touched the manacles chilled with frost. The chains broke off one by one as the fire washed across them, disintegrating into tiny motes of painfully bright green light. He and Grimm both winced as each one went, but Nox continued to stare straight up, her eyes fixed on the sky overhead.

“Have to tell you,” she croaked. “Need to know what happened. Tried to bind her, should’ve worked. Name’s not Katya. Lied. Bitch,” she said, and started coughing.

“Easy, easy, don’t get yourself worked up. She lied about everything else, why not that?” Grimm said. “I’m more concerned about the damage Serenna’s spell has done to you. How many fingers am I holding up?”

Nox did not blink as he held his hand right over her face. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m having a little trouble seeing at the moment.”

Grimm bit back a curse, and forcibly kept his voice soothing. “All right, that’s to be expected. You did just have someone mucking around in your head. We’ll get you straightened out when we get back to the mansion,” he said, hoping she would not sense the lie. Losing vision was a bad sign, especially when all her other physical hurts were healed. Her ability to see energy fields was tied into both her regular vision, and the way she channeled the elements. If any part of that had been broken, it was likely none of it would ever work right again.

Lucien must have figured out the same thing.  His face was drawn, and he had not said a word the entire time they worked on Nox. Now that they were done he just stared at the hot springs.  Grimm decided to give the man something else to think about. “Lucien, I can hear some horses nearby. I could fly us back but I’d rather keep myself free to fend off any more attacks.”

Lucien stood up, but did not go anywhere. “It’s getting warm.”

Oh great, Grimm thought. He’s lost it. “Yes, the springs are bubbling up, which is why we need the horses.”

“They won’t be fast enough,” Lucien said, picking up Serenna.  “Take Nox, fly us out, now. Bring the horses if you can, but if not they will have to fend for themselves.”

The ground heaved beneath them, and the hot springs let out an ominous, high pitched whine like a steam furnace about to blow. In the distance, the mountains glowed scarlet.

“Bloody Hel!” Grimm said, scooping up Nox and hurling them all skyward. “Was that Loki?”

A searing golden light joined the scarlet, and the top of the mountain blew.

“And Balor,” Lucien said, cradling Serenna to his chest as hot chunks of pumice began to rain down on them. “I think they finally decided to hash things out. Can’t you fly any faster?”

Grimm covered Nox, wincing as the pieces grew larger and hammered down on his armor with a sound like a thousand smiths at the forge.  A ripple in the air warned him of the shockwave coming from the eruption. “We’re about to move a lot faster! Hang on!”

It hit them like a tidal wave; large, loud and devastating. It took every ounce of strength Grimm had to divert the worst of the energy around them, but even so they rolled wildly with the turbulent air.

They were barely staying airborne, thrown about from one air current to another. Rock and ash choked the air outside of Grimm’s protective castings. And yet, through it all he could not help but grin because he could hear Nox’s hoarse giggles every time they looped around. “best…ride…ever!”

He hugged her as much as his armor would allow, and set about taming the wild wind that held them in its grip…


<–Checkmate pt#2-a  –BeginningCONTINUE->

A Game of Chess – Checkmate (2 of 2) April 28, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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It is here! The final segment of the Nox and Grimm episode 100 short story!  Woooo! *happydancehappydance*

Holy shamoly – I had no idea when I started writing this that it would go on for so long. But I couldn’t stop writing – I had to finish it, and it had to be done right.  So here it is, all 9000 words of it, spread over 3 posts (it was too long, had to break it up.)  It’s all here though, just follow the big CONTINUE link at the bottom of each one. I hope you enjoy it, and here’s to shooting for another 100 episodes!  Woohoo!

-Angie

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Nox rode north and west, clinging to the back of a horse Loki had left stabled at the House of Ice. She remembered too late that it was aptly named Sybarite, and she wasted precious minutes coaxing it out of its comfortable stable and yet more after that trying to get him to run. As they clattered across a stone bridge, it tossed its head and nearly yanked the reins from her hands. She gathered them up and wrapped them around one hand, snapping them to get him moving again. “C’mon, you cantankerous brute, run! I have got to get this over with before Grimm realizes I’ve gone.”

It was only then that she remembered the trick to getting him moving, and reached forward to activate the enchantments carved into small stones embedded in his tack. Sybarite tossed his head again, snorted, and finally broke into a gallop.

Nox was not sure that going out on this mission alone was the brightest idea, but it was the right one. She could still see the look on Grimm’s face as he picked up his parent’s portrait, and hear the heartbreak in his voice when he spoke of Katya.  It was obvious he had once loved her. To ask him to destroy her, despite all that she had done to him would just be too cruel. And besides, wasn’t she the most skilled person in the north when it came to wrangling spirits, next to her parents?

Of course, her father wasn’t too sure he could manage it, and her mother had already lost out to the Shadowkin. Nox stopped that line of thought as anxiety set in.  “Crud, this is no time for second thoughts. Buck up, girl, you took out hundreds of Shadowkin earlier today. What’s one more?”

She checked the charm she had wrapped around one arm, and it tugged to the left. It was made of long strands of blond hair she had taken from her mother’s brush, braided together with a scrap of leather into a bracelet.  She turned the horse at a fork in the road onto a trail that led through a lovely, flower clad valley.

Nox had only been on this path once before. It led to her mother’s small mountain retreat, where she would go every year to meditate and soak in the hot springs. Serenna had forbidden her to go there, so of course Nox had gone to check it out as soon as she was old enough to be out for an afternoon without causing alarm, Nox was more comfortable with heat than the average Winter kin, being half-human, but even so the waters had proved too hot for her to go for a swim. The only other thing she had found there was a small, flower bedecked shrine with three candles on it that never burned down.  There were no markings anywhere to say what it was for, and since she could not ask her mother she had soon lost interest in it.

Nox slowed her horse to a walk as they closed in on the winding stairs that led up to the retreat. Her mother’s honey colored palfrey was standing off to one side, cropping at the long green grass that covered the clearing.  Nox left Sybarite tethered nearby and quietly crept up the stairs, careful not to make any sound.

The building was just as she remembered it – a large wooden structure surrounded by trees, with a sloping roof and delicate, painted screens for walls.  Wisps of steam floated out and left the stone floors slick with moisture.  Nox was about to go inside but the charm on her wrist tugged to the left again. She slipped around the side of the building and followed the leaf-strewn path that led to the shrine.

Her mother was there, kneeling before it and chanting low beneath her breath. Nox stopped, half-hidden behind a tree and made the slight mental shift that allowed her to see auras and other energy fields. Serenna was surrounded in a sheen of emerald green light that slowly bled off and flowed into a chalk circle drawn on the flagstones underneath her.

Serenna left off her chant, and Nox shuddered as her mother’s blank, soul-less stare seemed to cut right through her.

“I knew you would come, daughter,” Serenna said. “There is no need to hide, the Shadowkin is not here.”

“Even so, I think I’ll stay right where I am,” Nox said, keeping well away from the lines of green energy. “You are not well, mother. The Shadowkin has gotten hold of you.”

“You could just as easily say that I have her,” Serenna replied, calmly smoothing her skirts.

Nox shook her head vehemently. “It doesn’t work like that. Once they get their hooks into you, they can make you see anything they want. You are not in control here, mother. Please, let me help you. I know how to get rid of it.”

A mocking smile crossed her mother’s face. “As do I child. I taught you the ways of controlling spirits, remember?”

“Then why haven’t you?” Nox said. “It broke father’s heart when he found out what you’d done.”

That got a reaction. Anger flickered in Serenna’s eyes, and she swept up to her feet. “Your father is all but one of them. He has no right to judge me.” She jabbed a finger toward the shrine, her face twisted in rage. “Do you want to know what this is? Your brothers lie here, all three dead before their lives had even begun. He could have saved them. We could have worked together, but no, he was too afraid to use the knowledge the Shadowkin offered. When the day came that he finally found his spine, he still went behind my back and changed me without my permission. And there you were, the result of his cowardice. A pitiful thing caught between two worlds.” Her voice dropped, soothing as if talking to a child. “But do not worry, my dear. In the hands of a healer, the knowledge of the Shadowkin can do great things. Your life is about to change in ways you could never imagine.”

The shadows beneath the trees deepened and began to move. Even without that warning Nox would have known that the Shadowkin was coming. She had been soul-bound to Grimm for too long not to sense its presence.  She backed away slowly, keeping an eye on her mother while scanning the woods for the enemy. A whisper of power brought up her aura shield, and the whole area was lit with its crackling, electric blue light. “Mother, it’s not too late. Work with me and we can send that creature to Hel where she belongs.”

Cruel laughter rolled out from the forest. “Oh, do you think so, little half-blood?”

All expression drained from Serenna’s face and her shoulders slumped. A dark shadow with leaf-green eyes loomed over her, digging its fingers into her shoulders. “You see, my puppet here won’t make a move without me pulling her strings. Kneel,” it ordered, and Serenna dropped to her knees and picked up the chant where she had left off.

The figure slowly took shape, the shadows becoming a beautiful young forest kin with auburn hair. She moved toward Nox like a predator stalking its prey. “So, you are the one who stole my Grey’s heart from me?” she said, a snarl marring her pretty features.

“If you mean Grimm, I don’t need his name to free him from nasty piece of work like you,” Nox said, with a scornful look. “The only name I need is yours. Katya.”

As she spoke the name, energy flashed out and surrounded them both, taking on the shape of a figure eight. Nox stood in the smaller half, dragging in energy and sending it hurtling around to the larger side that encircled Katya.

The Shadowkin gave it an appraising look. “Not bad, half-blood. But not good enough.” She took another step forward, pressing against the bonds of the circle.

“I’m not done yet,” Nox said, hanging casting marks in the air around her. She drew in more energy and her voice rang out clear as a bell. “Katya, I summon thee. By thy name, I bind thee to my will.”

“And by your will, my soul is yours to command,” Katya said, her laughter sending a chill down Nox’s spine. “Definitely not good enough.”  She raked her nails across the casting and shattered it into a million shards of blue light.

Nox cried out as the energy backlashed into her. It lifted her up and smashed her into a tree, leaving her in a stunned heap at its roots. “You lied,” she gasped. “You never told Grimm your real name. He loved you, and you lied to him!”

“Love is weapon for the strong to use,” Katya said. She reached down and grabbed a handful of Nox’s hair, yanking her to her feet. “You are as naïve as he was. We are going to have so much fun, you and I. The only question is which limb to tear off first.”

A weak blast of sorcerous energy hit Katya from behind, causing her to stumble. Serenna swayed to her feet, her eyes wide with fear. “My baby. Don’t hurt my baby!”

Katya turned around slowly, a sharks’s smile on her face. “Of course not, poppet. I wouldn’t want you to waste all the effort you put into your cleansing spell.”  She dragged Nox across the ground and threw her into the spell circle.

Nox tried to break her fall but her limbs were still prickling from the backlash and didn’t seem to want to work right. She rolled and landed on her back, sprawled across the length of the circle.  Manacles made of acid green light snapped around her hands and feet, and another clamped itself around her neck. Chains ran outward from each one, anchored at five points around the circle. A strange lassitude washed over her, draining the strength from her limbs and blurring her vision. It was all she could do to turn her head to the side so that she could see.

Katya stood next to her mother, whispering in her ear. Serenna nodded slowly as if she were half asleep, and her eyes started to glaze over again. Katya was so busy trying to subdue her ‘puppet’ that she never noticed the portal opening up behind her. The Morning Lord rode through at a gallop and barely missed riding over Katya.

He reined in his horse so sharply it reared up and nearly sat back on its hind legs. Balor was off its back before its front hooves even hit the ground. “Dammit woman, quit playing with your toy and answer me when I call you!”

Katya hissed and bared her teeth. “What you doing here? I gave you one simple task; do not tell me you have failed!”

Balor threw the charred remains of a charm bracelet at her feet. “Your pet’s spell didn’t work. He never even noticed it was cast on him!”

Serenna looked blearily up at Katya. “I told you, dragon fire negates sorcery,” she said, her words slurring.

Balor drew his arm back to slap Serenna, but Katya stopped him. “I still need her, you dolt. Where is the young Lord Dragon now?”

Balor jerked his thumb back toward the mountains behind them. “He will be here soon enough. You wanted the dragon mark, don’t deny it. Well, now you are going to get it.”

Nox lay still while she listened, but her heart was racing. Loki was alive! She could still feel the gentle warmth from the piece of glass she wore around her neck, and it gave her an idea.  Air fans Fire, and Fire negates sorcery. She tucked her chin and blew downwards, sending a light draft of Air over the glass. The flames trapped within flared up, and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out as it blistered her skin. A tiny bit of strength flowed back into her as the enchantments on the chains started to fray, and she made herself blow on it again.

Serenna’s head snapped up. She moved to the edge of the circle and started weaving her hands in elaborate patterns. “No more elements. My baby will only be safe when she is fully human.” The circle repaired itself and Nox arched up off the ground, screaming as the spell began to work. Serenna made a shushing sound. “Hush baby, I know it hurts. But you have to trust me. Mommy knows best.”

With her puppet taken care of, Katya turned to deal with her fuming pawn. Balor was busy snapping orders at the New Dawn troops pouring through the portal behind him, setting up a defensive perimeter. She studied him, deciding how best to use such a flawed tool. He was not yet as addicted to the toxins in her skin as Grimmalkyn had been – Fire was notoriously hard to drug – but he could still be influenced. “Come now, let us not quarrel,” she said, and ran her hand playfully along his neck. “We must all work together if we are to reap the rewards of our labors.”

Balor stiffened as her touch let the toxins seep straight into his brainstem. “What are you up to now,” he said, but did not move away.

Katya leaned in so close that her lips brushed his ear. ‘“I have an idea for your new recruits. Why waste them on a diversion for your nephew, when you can use them to destroy him?”

Balor gave her a wary look. “What did you have in mind?”

She smiled, knowing she had him hooked despite his misgivings. “The Shadowkin knew ways to unleash the untapped power within their tools, enough to match that of the young Dragon. Not a pleasant method, if you don’t have the stomach for a bit of bloodshed, but very effective.”

“As long as it is their blood being shed, I care not,” he said, giving her his full attention. “Tell me what must be done.”

Katya whispered her plan, and Balor let out an ugly laugh. “That is it? That is all it takes?” he said, and signaled his retinue to gather around him. “Come, my brethren! It is time to reclaim what is rightfully mine!” He strode to the portal with a host of New Dawn priests in his wake.

Katya laughed and clapped her hands as she watched him go. This game was proving to be even more fun than she had imagined. With a last look to make sure Serenna was still behaving, she disappeared into the woods to prepare a few surprises for when the Ice Lord arrived.


<–Checkmate pt#1  –BeginningCONTINUE->

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