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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->



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