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Nox and Grimm – The Devil Inside August 23, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Following an armed stranger into a hidden room was probably not one of the brightest things Morvrain had ever done. Every instinct was telling him not to trust this man – but then, his instincts had told him to kill him without trial or proof of guilt. He couldn’t trust them either.

Morvrain shook his head. The only way to find out which of them to believe was to play along with ‘Grimm,’ until he showed his true colors. He would not let his men take such a risk however. He motioned them to take up positions outside, with one holding the door open, and cautiously followed the knight into the musty, ancient guard chamber.

The room itself was something of a marvel. It was lit by cunningly placed mirrors that reflected daylight in through narrow channels in the thick stone walls. They also allowed the occupants to view the area in front of the main entry doors without being seen. Clean, cool air without a hint of the rain outside circulated through the chambers, keeping the obviously antique furniture from being covered with dust. Racks of weapons, as brightly polished and sharp as the day they were set aside covered one wall, and a doorway led to a barracks room with neatly made beds. Personal effects from their former occupants were scattered about, in various states of decay. One still had a book sitting open on it, with a ribbon down the spine to mark where the reader left off.

The knight’s shoulders bowed as if under a great weight. “They thought they were coming back.” He let out a heavy sigh, and sat down on one of the sturdy benches that surrounded a central trestle table. “Have a seat, gentlemen. I’m sure the spirits of those that once served here would not mind.”

Morvrain sat gingerly on a bench. If his guess was right it was several thousand years old, and he half-expected it to turn to dust beneath him. It only creaked a little, but he still sat lightly on it. “By all accounts you are one of those spirits.”

Grimm let out a rumbling laugh. “No. Not quite. Though I was under a curse for a very long time.”

“How long?”

A crooked smile was all the answer he got to his question. “Channel some of your element. It will help counter the effects of the Fire charm that has been clouding your judgement.”

That at least sounded like a good idea. The first one he’d heard all day. The sword at his hip hummed in agreement. The stones here were ancient, laden with power, and as he drew on their strength he felt the headache that had plagued him fade away. It was time for him to retake control of the situation. “I’ll ask again, who are you?”

“The question you want to ask is, who was I.”  Grimm looked back at the barracks, lines of sorrow etched in his face. “I was a Wind knight. Does that make you feel any less fearful?”

Morvrain bristled at the dodge. “Your name, sir knight.”

“I told you my name.”

“My sword says otherwise.”

“Your sword,” he said, turning back, “isn’t old enough to understand nuance. I answer to Grimm now.”

That wasn’t the whole truth, but it was close enough that Morvrain was willing to let it drop. For the moment. “You mentioned a Fire charm?”

The knight leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “It’s a subtle one. Fire is passion, which can be expressed in many ways. In this case, a person touched by the charm becomes so passionate it turns to obsession, and it clouds their reason. Look at you and your men. You became so fanatical about enacting ‘justice’ on the one you thought had altered the wardstone that you were willing to commit murder.”

The energy from the ancient stones still flowed into Morvrain, helping stave off the urge to renew combat. But a part of him screamed that ‘Grimm’ was lying by omission about his true name, and to lie to a Truthfinder meant death.  Nothing else he said mattered. Even as the thought crossed his mind, his hand twitched down toward his blade.

Grimm followed the motion with his eyes, but made no move to draw his own blade. “We are on the edge of war. Imagine what will happen if all those volatile, angry, and scared Lords of the Great Houses get touched by this charm. Someone wanted a bloodbath.”

Morvrain had never killed a suspect without the due process of a trial before, but there was always a first time. His hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword – and it gave him a jolt that set his hair on end. Reason came back to him in a rush, along with the sick realization that his mind was not entirely his own right now. He jumped up from the bench so quickly that he knocked it over. “What is happening to us?”

The guard holding the door open moved inside and let it snap shut behind him.  “He’s cast a spell on you, justice Morvrain. Stand by me and together we can take him.”

Morvrain looked from the knight, back to his junior officer. “Malach. Channel energy from the stones. That’s an order.”

Grimm moved up to stand by his side. “Ask him his name, Truthfinder. His real name.”

Malach hissed, and the shadows cast by the light streaming into room seemed to wrap around him. “You were always a clever one, Grimmalkyn.”

Now the knight drew his sword. “Leave the boy go, Katya. This is between you and me.”

An oily black substance filled Malach’s eyes, and wept out of them like tears. “If you want me, you must kill my puppet, darling. I find I like wearing Stone kindreds. They last longer than most.” He let out an off-kilter laugh. “Oh, but wait. You bear Death’s sword, and cannot take a soul before it’s time. Oh yes, there is still a bit of Malach left in here. Somewhere.”

Morvrain drew his own sword. “Malach would rather be dead than this.” Behind him, he heard Grimm yell, “NO!” but he had already gone on the attack.

Every other time they had sparred, Morvrain came out the better. But not this time. Malach seemed to have gained a skill far beyond his years, his blade dancing around Morvrain’s defences. There was no room to retreat, no space for the knight to fight beside him.

He heard the knight start chanting and the air moving through the room picked up speed.

Malach’s eyes narrowed. “A good try, Grimmalkyn, but too late.”  His sword flashed out, and suddenly Morvrain was on the floor. A dark pool spread out from his midriff, which burned and felt cold all at once.

Malach fled through the door. “The suspect has killed Justice Morvrain! To arms!”

The last thing Morvrain remembered was his sword giving him the useless message that Malach was lying…


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Nox and Grimm – Friend or Foe August 16, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The rain swept down the city streets in waves like heavy grey curtains. The summer heat had finally broken in violent storms that buried the cobblestones in ankle-deep water, and thunder made hollow echoes in the alleyways. A lone figure made its way toward the ancient Convocation Hall, wrapped in a heavy cloak with a deeply cowled hood.

Truthfinder Morvrain watched his quarry from the shadows of a side alley, sizing up his opponent. The target was almost certainly a man, tall, broad shouldered, and by the way he moved he wore armor beneath the cloak. The rain seemed to bend around him as if he were the prow of a ship, leaving his cloak completely dry.

Morvrain held his breath as the man passed his hiding place. He paused for half a heartbeat, head tilted slightly as if listening, but there was no way he could hear anything over the drumming sound of the rain. Was there?  Thankfully he kept going, and Morvrain exhaled slowly in relief.

Then he waited until he was sure his target had gone far enough ahead before following. Someone had begun to tamper with the wardstone that guarded the entrance to the central meeting chamber. He’d interrupted their work by accident last time, as he patrolled the marble halls on another rainy, windswept day.  They’d gotten away then but he knew if he was patient, they would come back to finish the job.  They always came back to the scene of the crime, a fact that never ceased to amaze him, if only because it seemed so foolish.

The man strode quickly across the street in front of the Hall and took the stairs two at a time. He stopped before the massive carved oak doors and studied the frame around them for a moment, before touching a worn carving of a windflower. The doors swung open without a sound, and the darkness inside swallowed him up.

Morvrain signaled to two of his own men who were also waiting in side alleys to follow him in.  He stopped for a second at the entrance, and for the first time ever he noticed the hint of weathered, old casting marks on the carvings.  They faded away as he watched, answering the question of how he had missed them before.

His men caught up, and two more came out of the gloom from side hallways. One of them leaned in close to whisper, “He went straight for the wardstone.”

He nodded his thanks. “Fan out, and be ready for a fight.”

The cloaked man knelt before the stone – though in reality it was more a pillar, thirty feet of granite rising up to a rough-hewn capstone at the roof.  It was covered with casting marks that twined around its length, mixed in with the symbols for each of the Elemental Houses. Morvrain strained his eyes through the darkness to see what symbol lit up as his quarry touched the stone, but it was hidden by the cloak. Only a breath of air stirred, sighing through the empty halls.

All five Truthfinders moved forward as one, drawing in energy from their own element of Stone to muffle their footsteps on the cold marble.  Morvrain gripped the hilt of his sword, feeling the enchantments forged into it thrumming beneath his hand. He waited to draw it though, not wanting its glow to give him away.  Their circle tightened, and his heart pounded with equal parts adrenaline and anger as he moved into place. With a roar he drew his sword in a blinding flash of light, and attacked.

The man should have had no chance to defend himself but somehow he whirled around, faster than anyone his size had a right to move. He caught Morvrain’s blade on his own, sidestepped, ducked beneath a second sword thrust and neatly disentangling his own blade while shoving one of Morvrain’s men into a third with his free hand. He continued the movement, never stopping, the heavy broadsword he wielded whistling through the air as quick as a willow switch. Two more blades clanged together, and the light on one went out as it flew from its owner’s hand.  The sword their opponent held had no light at all. If anything, it seemed to swallow it up.

Morvrain swore as the man made a sudden rush to break through their lines.  He threw himself in the way, just barely catching the dark blade on his own. “Fool! You should have never come back!”

He caught a glimpse of a craggy, weather beaten face that was criss-crossed by the faint silver lines of old scars. Dark grey eyes glinted in the light of Morvrain’s blade.  “Back? I haven’t been here in centuries.”

“Liar!” Morvrain snarled, trying to maneuver his opponent into the path of the other Truthfinders.

He batted Morvrain’s blade aside. “Look to your sword, man. If I were lying it would know.”

A pulse of warm, soothing energy ran up through Morvrain’s palm, and he looked at the softly glowing light that ran along the sword’s edge. It was clear and steady.

The man moved to allow himself to keep a wary eye on his five opponents. “I know my information is badly out of date, but I thought Truthfinders at least gave a man the right of trial before taking off his head.”

The truth of those words hit Morvrain like hammer blows. What was he doing?  He had dedicated his entire life to serving justice, yet here he was, attacking a complete stranger from behind without warning, and trying to kill him without so much as learning his name. His head started to ache so badly that he thought it would split open, till it was all he could do hold up a shaking hand to call off the attack. “Who are you?” he croaked, his mouth suddenly gone dry. “Why are you here?”

“You can call me Grimm.  I am here to check on the castings built into ward stone, although, I would say that is not the only thing that’s been tampered with.” He sheathed his sword in a smooth, practiced motion and moved to a wall near the entrance to the building. A touch of his hand and whispered word opened another door that Morvrain never knew existed. “Let’s have a seat in the guard room. We need to talk…”


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Nox and Grimm – If It’s Not Baroque August 3, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The stack of papers in front of Nox wasn’t getting any smaller. She stifled a sigh, dipped a quill into the inkwell and blotted the nib so that it wouldn’t dribble. She’d had an idea for a writing implement with a reservoir built in, but like so many of her plans it had been shelved away. A few months ago she was exploring the ruins of the House of Winds. Now, she was the ruler of the House of Ice and until her father returned home she was bound by duty to see that their territory was run smoothly.

Which meant wading through endless piles of paperwork. Her secretary, a thin, angular old Ice kindred named Galton stood by her elbow, ready to pick up each signed missive as soon as the ink dried. He cleared his throat, a sound she was beginning to loath.  “Ach-hem.  My lady, may I bring up a small issue?”

Be nice, he’s been a fixture here for hundreds of years, she reminded herself. She plastered a smile on her face and looked up at him. “Yes, Galton?”

“I know you have more important things to deal with, but if I may bring up the matter again of your quarters. Your father did request you have rooms appropriate to your new station.”

“We’ve been over this, Galton.”

He bobbed his head, making the wisps of white hair that fringed his scalp flutter like cobwebs. “I know, my lady, but you must admit that this…table is hardly the proper furnishing to make an impression on your guests. Nor is the room large enough to fit more than a handful of visitors.”

Nox leveled a cool look at him. “This is the field desk my father has used in every war he’s fought. It’s making a statement, which I assure you will make an impression that will more than make up for the room.”

Galton let out a resigned sigh. “Yes, my lady. That it will.”

He looked so dejected that Nox immediately felt bad about glaring at him. “I suppose I could consider a larger room. What one did you have in mind?”

“Your great-great-great-grandmother Nadine’s quarters,” he said, beaming.

Inwardly, Nox groaned.  “The one at the end of the hall on the third floor?”

“Yes!”

“With the marble floors?”

“You remember it then!” he said.

“And all those hideous gilt monstrosities she called furniture?”

Galton frowned in disapproval. “They are priceless antiques.”

“Everything in this mansion is an antique. No matter though,” Nox said, a mischievous smile putting dimples into her cheeks. “I can put the extra space to good use. But,” she said, holding up a hand to forestall anything further he might add, “you will not waste anyone’s time by having those travesties of interior decor cleaned. I intend to redecorate.”

Nox handed him the pile of paperwork and swept out of the room. “Prioritize those for later, please. I’ll be busy for the next few hours.”

He trailed out of the room after her, bewildered. “But, don’t you need staff to help you?”

“Nope. That will be all, Galton, thank you,” she said. “OY! GRIMM! Where are you, you great furry lump!”

A drowsy thought floated through her mind, quiet and distorted as if it came from a great distance. “In my room, short-stuff. I was remembering…”

Nox’s smile softened. Ever since getting his memories back, Grimm spent all of his free time wandering through his yesterdays. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like, to have a whole life suddenly returned after two thousand years of emptiness. “Sorry to interrupt, but can I borrow you for a little while? I have a project I could use your help with.”

The hound’s thoughts became more focused. “I will be there in a moment.”

He met up with her outside of Lady Nadine’s suite.  Nox had already thrown the doors open, revealing the space in all its gaudy glory. Grimm’s ears flattened. “Skies above, would you look at that couch? It’s big enough that I could use it for a bed. Although, I’d be afraid it would swallow me whole and spit me back out covered in brocade and lace doilies.”

Nox snickered. “If you think that’s bad, check out her chair. Nothing says “I’m compensating” like a gilt throne on four foot high dais.” She walked inside and pulled up the dust ruffle on one of the settees. There was a large chunk taken out of the carved wooden leg. “Hah, they never fixed it!  I talked Kel into helping me freeze the floor once. We had a great ice hockey match going, until mother showed up. That was the day I learned the meaning of the word apoplectic.”

Grimm let out whurfs of canine laughter. “I can just imagine. So, what did you want to do with this stuff? I would have thought Loki was a better choice for a cleansing by fire.”

“Sorry, no bonfires today. Poor Galten would have a heart attack. No, I was thinking this was a good chance for me to start practicing using the elements again.”  She patted her pockets, searching for a scrap of paper she had covered with casting marks earlier that morning. “Ah, here it is. What do you think of this?”

Grimm studied the paper for a moment, and then rolled his eyes. “Technomancers. Honestly, you are never happy unless you’re blowing things up.”

“Damn, I was sure this would work.” Nox looked over the calculations again, her lips pursed together.

“Oh, it’ll work,” Grimm said. “But how do you intend to stop it without causing a backlash?”

Nox brighted up. “That’s the part I need your help with. If I put Air castings around the edges of the Ice to wear away at the marks, it should keep the chain reaction from getting out of control. I just need to know the right marks to simulate the slow, steady wear of a constant wind in a canyon or mountain pass.”

Grimm looked at the casting marks again. “Hmm. That might work but it is damned dangerous. Why do you need to do this, anyway? There are easier ways to move furniture than to slide them across linked casting marks.”

“Because I have to prove my abilities before I can take my father’s place in the Convocation,” Nox said. She threw her hands up in frustration. “Thanks to mother’s spell I can’t even make an ice cube without breaking out in a sweat.  I have to find some way to multiply what little energy I can channel, or let the whole world know how broken I am. I figured if this furniture gets a little beat up while I test my theories, almost no-one will care.”

A wave of sympathy came through their bond. “You are mending, little one. Give it time.”

“That’s just it, Grimm, I don’t have time. The next meeting of the Convocation is in two weeks. I can’t fake that test.” She gave him a pleading look. “Will you help me?”

“Always. Though sometimes I wonder if that’s a good thing.” He sat with his tail curled around his paws, and sent a stream of Air casting marks out into the room with a low bark. “You will have to set off two chain reactions, like setting a backfire to contain a wildfire. I don’t think I have to tell you what will happen if you lose your concentration. You see? This one I made already tries to consume itself and implode.”

Nox flung out her hand and a glittering circle of Ice casting marks landed on the floor, and started to spread. “Don’t worry. Technomancy teaches you to stay focused – I haven’t let my mind wander since the first time I blew my lab to smithereens.”

“Then how do you explain all the other explosions?” Grimm grumbled.

Nox ignored him. She was too busy taking apart his example, and replacing it with her own Air casting. She let out a series of whistles, each one a different pitch to match the mixed tones he had made in his bark.

“You should do those together,” he said.

“Show me how later,” Nox replied. The ice was spreading rapidly, covering the floor in delicate frost patterns before solidifying. She let out one last whistle and clapped her hands.

The furniture shook as ice built up beneath them in, forming a slope. They rattled up higher, started to tilt, then shot down the ice ramps.  They slid out through the doors on a trail of ice that constantly spread out before them. The air casting followed, eating away at the remains of Nox’s little ice road and whirled just ahead as well to guide the ice around corners. Nox let out a whoop and skated it after it, whizzing past the slack-jawed mansion staff that had come out to see what the commotion was.

Grimm loped along behind, shouting out instructions. “A little to the left! Slow down for that corner! More speed on the Air casting, the ice is growing too fast!”

Nox raced ahead, almost close enough to touch the ottoman that was bringing up the rear. “OPEN THE STORAGE ROOM DOORS!” she bellowed.

A serving maid ran to comply, and yanked them clear a bare moment before the furniture slid past. Nox grinned and waved as she went by, and then sang out a long, clear note.  The Air casting roared in response, and ate away at the remains of the Ice casting, spending all its energy on the task.

Nox glided to a halt and picked up the last small piece of Ice just in time for it to collapse on itself with a tiny piff of cold air.

Grimm shook his shaggy head and let out an amused snort. “Well, as explosions go that wasn’t too bad.”

Nox flashed him a grin. “No, but the day is still young. And I still have to move in all the furniture I want to use…”


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New Blog Series! From Scene to Screen August 1, 2013

Posted by techtigger in Reviews.
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Woohoo! I am very excited to announce I’ll be writing a bi-monthly (or possibly monthly, we’ll see) column on http://fridayflash.org called “From Scene to Screen.” I’ll be discussing books that got made into movies, from a writers’ perspective. (which is not the same as a movie critic!)
I’ll be looking at what worked and what didn’t in both media, and discussing things that writers can learn from them both.

The first one went live today – I’ve dug up a classic, Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars series, which recently got made into the movie John Carter. Stop by FFDO and chime in, I’d love to hear what you thought of them both!

-Angie

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