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Flash Fiction – Heart of Stone May 25, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Nox woke to the sound of the water clock by her bed chiming the hour. It took her a moment to remember why the room was still pitch black at 7am. She sighed, swung her feet over the edge of the bed and felt around with her toes until she found her slippers. It was foolish to think she would wake up one morning and have her sight back. Even so, she could not quite squash the faint bit of hope that her mother’s spell might unravel over time. Today was not to be the day, however.

Her clothes were laid out across a nearby chair, a simple skirt and chemise that could be pulled on with a minimum of fuss.  She navigated slowly around the room, guided by small puffs of air from casting marks her father had placed on all the furniture. Colder drafts marked the left side, warmer ones on the right and anything fragile would whistle a warning if she got too close.

“I’m living in a pipe organ,” Nox grumbled, as she checked the seams with her fingers to make sure nothing was on inside out.  “Don’t get me wrong, I like getting around by myself. But it’s so much easier when I can look through your eyes, Grimm”

Grimm let out an amused snort. “Your father does not want me ‘lurking’ about your bedchamber. He does have a point; I am only a hound on the outside.”

Nox counted out the steps to her door, and the world blossomed into color and shape as Grimm moved to her side and joined their thoughts. “Yeah, I guess having you in here would be – “

“ – scandalous.”

“I was going to say inappropriate,” Nox said, with an impish grin.

Grimm chuckled. “If Loki ever caught me in there that mountain would blow again, and this time he would not bother to stop it.”

Nox laughed with him but her smile faded a little. As one, they moved to look out the floor-length windows that ran along the far end of her suite. They were both thinking about their aborted attempt to go visit Loki the previous day. The mountains in the distance no longer glowed, but a steady stream of smoke still rose from their peaks in ashen plumes.

“Were you able to see what triggered mother’s spell again?” Nox asked.

The hound sat beside her, which put his head on the same level as hers. “Yes, it’s your immune system. Normally when you encounter that much heat your body draws on your elements to act as a buffer. But when you channel Ice or Air, the spell tries to cut off the energy.”

“And I end up in a twitching heap on the ground. Lovely.” She leaned her head against the glass. “What about taking a source of cold with me? I could have father craft an enchantment.”

“I thought of that, but your system is so starved for the elements that it will try to absorb anything stronger than ambient energy to replenish itself. Which will set off the spell.” Grimm said, his ears flicking forward and back as he pondered their options. “We could try to suppress your immune system for a short time, but that has its own risks.”

Nox nodded, toting up the pros and cons in her head. “We’d have to do it carefully, let it down in stages over time to test it.”

“It is certainly worth investigating,” Grimm said, his tail swishing slowly across the marble floor. “Spending some time around Fire energy would help wear away your mother’s spell. And it might do Loki good to see you as well. I do not like the reports Anders sent, he should be getting more active as he finishes the casting, not less.”

“I know. I’m worried too,” Nox said. There was always a risk that someone merging so closely with the natural world would forget who they were, and become one with the elements forever. Loki had spent a month locked in a struggle to quiet the volcano, longer than she or anyone else had expected. One of the elders from House Vulcan was coming to help, but it would be at least another week before they arrived. She looked up at the smoking peaks. “We’re going to try again today.”

——-

Loki dreamed.

The mountain was living thing, a vast earthen beast with molten rock in its veins. Loki held it in chains made of scarlet light, but it held him as well, bearing down on him till he thought his bones would crack from the weight. Its foul breath polluted the air, choking him even as he pulled tighter on the chains to choke it into submission.

Pain roused him from the nightmare, but he woke to find his dream a reality. Lava had flowed in around him, nearly filling the chamber. Only his head and part of his chest were free, and his arms strained backwards as if he had tried to hold back the flow with his bare hands.  He had fallen asleep and nearly lost control of the casting.

Fatigue sapped his strength. He had no idea how long he had been down here, the days blurring in the endless flow of energy he channeled to lull the mountain into dormancy. He was beginning to forget why he even bothered.

A faint voice called to him. “Red! Can you hear me?”

The voice belonged to Anders, not Nox. She had not come to see him in all the time he had labored there in the dark. He suspected that Anders was lying about her surviving the Shadowkin attack. He should have been upset about that but it took Fire to move his heart, and his was slowly turning to stone along with the mountain he tamed. The casting was turning in on its caster. That probably should have worried him too…

Anders voice sounded distant. “Hang on Red. I’m going to get help!”


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This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated regularly as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Flash Fiction – One Vision May 19, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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It did not seem right to Grimm that the sun was still shining, or that the wind was laden only with the heady scent of flowers. There should have been tempests, he thought bitterly. What was a pronouncement of doom without a bit of rain and thunder to accompany it?

Nox sat on the garden bench next to him, idly twirling a lock of hair between her fingers while he described Death’s visit.

“You are taking this awfully well,” Grimm said.

“I’m thinking. It’s not every day Hel shows up for a social call,” Nox said. She reached up to undo her hair clip and put it in her mouth while she re-coiled her hair. She kept talking while she worked, though her words came out somewhat muffled. “What makes you so sure our fate will be a bad one?”

“Past experience,” Grimm grumbled. “That, and I just rubbed his nose in the fact that he owed me a favor. He did not look amused.”

“What did you expect from Death, visions of happy fluffy bunnies and kittens?” Nox said, tucking the last rogue bits of hair in place. “He has a reputation to uphold.”

“Nox, this won’t go away by ignoring it,” Grimm scolded.

“What do you want me to do? Wail, gnash my teeth, cry ‘oh woe is me’?” she said, but smiled to take the sting out of her words. “If you had any concrete evidence of what our fate might be I might act differently. Hunh. ” A frown furrowed her brow. “Grimm, your sword is talking to me. Does it normally do that?”

Death’s sword started to hum from where it sat, propped up against Grimm’s leg. Nox turned to look at him, her eyes the same metallic grey as the blade.

::Why do you hesitate, guardian?::  she said.

The change in her voice stood Grimm’s hair on end.  The sword hummed in time with her words, and Grimm realized it was using her as a proxy to talk to him.

::You know what to do. There are laws that must be obeyed; the balance has to be kept. It was your fate to serve until one came to take your place, and she was marked from the moment your souls were bound. Your time is done. ::

Grimm grabbed the sword and moved away from Nox. “No. I said I would serve in her stead, you can’t have her!”

Nox looked bemused. ::We are not the enemy, guardian. Aren’t you weary of fighting? Do you not want the peace that waits for you at the Road’s end? ::

Part of him did want it. There were times when he was desperately tired, having lived so long beyond his natural lifespan. But how could he tell Nox that her life had just ended? She might never see Loki again, not until he took his last walk down the Long Road and even then his shade would only pass her by. Grimm had spent centuries with nothing left but heartache and regret. That was not a fate he was willing to share with anyone.

“I am sorry,” he said, and sheathed the sword in one smooth, practiced motion. “The price for peace is too high.” He had no idea what he was going to do, but until he gave her the sword the deal was not done.

That was when the idea hit him. It was crazy. There would quite literally be Hel to pay for it. But it was the only way he could think of to keep them both in the mortal realms.

Nox stood up, her hand held out in a warning gesture. ::Be careful of what you choose. You will both bear the good or ill that comes of your decision.::

Grimm did not have to ask Nox what she wanted to do; he already knew what her answer would be. “We’ll take our chances,” he said, and cast the enchantment that would put the sword forever beyond her reach.

The sword’s voice began to fade.  ::No more bargains will be made. No more aid of any kind. You are on your own now.::

As the sword disappeared Nox shook her head, her eyes changing back to their normal dark blue. “What was that all about, you die and I end up in purgatory?” she said, making a rude noise. “If that’s its idea of aid then we can do without it!”

“Welcome back short-stuff,” Grimm said, relieved to hear her sounding like her feisty old self again.

She grinned at him. “Hey, I can hear you in my head. Did the casting work after all?” She reached blindly out to him and Grimm padded over to her side, ducking his head under her arm.  “What the… you’re furry!  Oh, crud, they turned you back into a hound again? What is with them, I thought they owed you a favor!”

“Calm down, it was my choice,” Grimm said, his deep voice rumbling through their soul-bond. “And the fact that I had a choice was the payment of the debt. Listen, if you had so much as laid a pinky on that sword you would become the next guardian. This was the only way to be sure we could both stay here.”

“So where is the sword now?” she asked.

“Somewhere between time and space, until I shapeshift back into a man. Which I have no plans of doing any time soon,” Grimm said.

Nox sighed and leaned her head against his. “We are in a boat load of trouble if we ever end up back in the spirit realms.”

“At least we won’t be in it alone,” he said. “Well, as long as we’re sailing into trouble you should at least be allowed to see it coming. Have a look through my eyes, little one.” His thoughts reached out to hers and they joined together like clasped hands.

A look of profound joy lit up Nox’s face as the world opened up before her, and her eyes welled up with tears. She hugged him and buried her face in the shaggy fur of his ruff.

“You’re welcome,” Grimm said, more at peace with his fate then he had been for a very long time.


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This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated regularly as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

Safe Haven – on the amwriting blog! May 12, 2012

Posted by techtigger in short story, writing.
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I am thrilled to have my short story, “Safe Haven” over on the #amwriting blog today!   It’s based on the characters from the paranormal espionage novel I have in progress (also found in my story, 10 Lordes.)  Hope you all enjoy it, nothing like a bit of noir to start off the weekend right, eh? 🙂  You can view it here:

http://amwriting.org/archives/11326

(and yes, I am busy polishing this week’s Nox and Grimm. Stay tuned!)

-Angie

 

Flash Fiction – Aftermath May 6, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Grimm walked with Nox around a small formal garden that graced one of the courtyards scattered throughout the mansion. He carefully guided her steps with a hand under her elbow, and sent a small Air casting whirling ahead of them to clear the path of anything that might cause her to stumble.

Nox took a deep breath and sighed as the breeze ruffled her dark hair. “The flowers smell lovely Grimm. But there isn’t much point in me strolling around a garden I can’t see.”

“Your nose still works,” Grimm said, temporizing, “and you need to get more Air if you are going to recover.”

She scowled and came to an abrupt halt. “All right, out with it, you big lug. You and father have been tip-toeing around me for weeks. Blind or not, I will kick both your asses if you don’t start telling me what’s going on.”

Grimm chuckled at that. “While that would be entertaining to watch, it will not be necessary. Let’s sit down, and if you promise to quit growling at me I will tell you what we’ve been doing.”

“I’m sorry. This is just so bloody frustrating,” she said, throwing her hands up in the air. “Every time I turn around there is something else I can’t do. Technomancy is right out, and so is sorcery. I can’t touch the elements without getting flattened by mother’s spell. All I can do is listen to petitions and decide what will be on the menu for dinner. If I don’t find something to do I’m going to go batty.”

Grimm caught one of her hands and gave it a sympathetic squeeze. “You will soon, don’t worry.” He helped her settle onto a decorative stone bench and sat down beside her. “Now then, what Lucien and I have been up to is researching ways to break Serenna’s spell. We have two possibilities, involving sorcery or dragonfire. Unfortunately we can’t risk waking Serenna and even if Loki weren’t busy wrestling a volcano you do not have your own elements as a buffer. You would fry to a cinder.”

Nox drummed her fingers on her knee. “Hmm, either one requires me to be functional. I’m guessing you have a third option?”

“I want to renew the spells that bound me to serve your family. The protective enchantments will open up a whole host of new possibilities for us.”

Nox jumped to her feet. “Are you out of your mind? After all we’ve been through, you would throw it all away for something that might clear up on its own? Father put you up to this, didn’t he?” She crossed her arms and shook her head stubbornly. “No way. I am not going to let you do this.”

Grimm sat patiently, waiting for her rant to run out of steam. “Do you trust me?”

“Of course I do,” she said.

“But not enough to think I might know what I’m doing?”

Her shoulders slumped a little. “It’s not that. You are just too self-sacrificing for your own good.”

“Now there is the pot calling the kettle black,” he said, with an amused chuckle. “Hear me out, little one. The enchantment can be altered so that it only lasts while we need it, and we can cut out everything but the useful parts – letting you see through my eyes, working spells through me, letting me lend you my powers.” He could see her wavering and pressed on. “You would do the same for me if the situation was reversed, and you know it.”

“Hoist on my own petard,” she grumbled. “All right, we’ll do it. But we put in a trigger to break it if something goes wrong.”

“Agreed. We can do this now if you like. The original enchantment was based on the oath of fealty between a knight and his liege. I have always thought of myself as your knight, so I do not mind doing that.”

Grimm waited for her nod, and drew his sword. He knelt before her with it held point down, and placed her hands over his on the pommel.  He focused on hanging the casting marks in the air, only murmuring the appropriate responses in the right places. Their soul bond hummed in sympathy, a silent chord that sang through both of their minds.

And then it stopped.

Everything stopped, the breeze, the butterflies hovering mid-flutter above the flowers. Even Nox had frozen in place, unmoving as a statue. An empty grey suddenly tinged everything, and Grimm got a sinking feeling in his stomach.

Death waited on the far side of the garden. The Long Road stretched out behind him into the grey haze, and the sword he had given Grimm to hunt the Shadowkin was in his hand.

Grimm braced himself for the worst and walked over to meet him. “I am guessing you object to me swearing fealty to another while I still serve you,” he said. Death made no reply, so he continued on. “I would have come to settle accounts after the curse was broken, but I could not find the way to you anymore. And I refuse to take the easy way down that Road.”

Death ignored Grimm, looking over his shoulder at Nox.

The pieces fell into place in Grimm’s mind. Hel needed its guardian. Grimm had been soul-bound to the last one, and ended up taking his place. Now Nox was soul-bound to him.

“Wait sir, please!” Grimm said, moving between them. “There is still the matter of several hundred Shadowkin spirits sent to their final rest. I am owed the bounty you placed on their heads, and I ask to call in that debt. I wish to keep serving you in her place. My task is not done, there is still one Shadowkin left for me to hunt down.”

Death turned his gaze on Grimm, and a chill cut him to the bone. Grimm could not meet his eyes, no matter how hard he tried. He bowed his head low. “Please sir. Do not punish her for aiding me.”

Death moved to stand in front of him. He placed the sword back in Grimm’s hand, but did not let go of it. “She will share your fate.”

Grimm’s head snapped up and he nearly dropped the sword. “What do you mean? Wait, don’t go, what does that mean!”

But the world had already shifted and Grimm found himself kneeling in front of Nox again. The sword between them now was Death’s.

Nox finished the last words of the oath before Grimm could stop her, and shivered as the enchantment gripped them like a vice. “Was it just me,” she said, “or did that feel awfully permanent?”


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This flashfic is part of an ongoing web serial, updated every week as a part of #fridayflash on twitter.  If you are new to Nox and Grimm, you can Click Here to read from the beginning.

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