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Nox and Grimm – A Changed Man October 11, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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It was nearly midnight when Grimm returned to the House of Ice.  As he flew over the rooftops of the mansion he could see a few lights still on in the windows. Not surprisingly, most of them were in Nox’s suite.  “She has more coffee than blood in her veins,” he said, with a rumbling laugh.

He was careful to set down far enough away from her avoid triggering the enchantments her father placed on him. As he touched down in a courtyard he could already feel the change coming over him,  and the urge to howl his annoyance was almost overwhelming.  He gave a quick nod to the guards and strode into the building, fighting the transformation with every step.

He always fought it. Resisting the spells placed on him had become so ingrained that he never even thought about it anymore, it had become reflex.  A sudden chill stood his hair on end as the enchantment crushed in on him.  He growled, his steps slowing as if we walked in deep snowdrifts. He leaned into the resistance, forcing himself one step further, then another before his body began to blur and fade.

Finally, he had to give up or risk injuring himself. For one brief moment a being of pure Air, invisible, and then settled into the shape of a large, shaggy wolf-hound.

Grimm heaved a sigh and shook himself from nose to tail. Maybe next time…

When he got to Nox’s room he paused outside the door, ears pointed forward, listening as she chanted out some sort of incantation. There was a strange metallic creaking sound, followed by her letting out a string of curses. That last was usually a sign that the spellcasting was over and it was safe to enter. He pushed open the door with a paw.

She was standing on a wooden crate overlooking a huge, rectangular table that dominated the room. It was covered by a detailed map of the world, and a tiny clockwork dragon sat to one side, puffing out smoke and making creaking noises as it folded its wings.  She frowned at it as she pushed a stray lock of her thick, black hair away from her face. “C’mon in, Grimm. I’m not doing anything explosive.”

“I always prefer to be careful,” Grimm said, padding over to sit next to her. He was big enough to look over her shoulder, even with her up on the box. “I do not want to get my fur singed off.”

“Oh, I don’t know, you might look good shaved like a poodle,” she said, grinning as he bared his teeth in mock-anger. “Seriously though, how did it go at Convocation Hall?”

He shrugged. “You are going to get your wish. I’m coming with you tomorrow.”

“H’ray!” she said, and threw her arms around his neck in a hug. She almost immediately let him go. “Oh wait, that means something went wrong.”

“I had a visit from Katya. She was controlling one of the Truthfinders.”

Her eyes widened in dismay. “Just one? Or have the lot of them gotten compromised?”

“Just the one, and I was able to drive her out. Still couldn’t kill her though,” he said, letting out a disgruntled growl. “She had allies nearby; as soon as she fled the storms kicked up to hurricane strength.”

Now it was Nox’s turn to shrug. “Well, we knew the Morning Lord had stolen the Key to Storms. I suppose we should be glad it’s not his element, or we’d get so much rain we’d have mushrooms growing behind our ears.”

“Small favors,” Grimm agreed.  He looked over the map, and pointed with his nose toward the dragon. “Dare I ask what this is for?”

“Aura trace. I’m trying to find Loki’s brother.”

Grimm tilted his head to one side, giving her a quizzical look. “I thought he was dead?”

“So did I. Apparently Balor has been dropping hints for years that he has him as a hostage though, to keep Father from pounding him into tar.” She waved her hand over the dragon, and with a whirr of gears and a whistle of steam it flew up to circle around the table. “This is a variation of the spell I used on you, remember? Only instead of trying to pull away a spell that’s tangled in your aura, I’m trying to have the spell pull it towards the target aura.” The dragon kept circling, but never once looked down at the map. She scowled at it and waved her hand in irritation, and it landed again with a tinny thunk.  “It should work, dangit. Even if he’s gone there would be traces left of his bones.”

Grimm shook his head. “You forget, he has been in the hands of a Shadowkin and her puppets for fifteen years. The sample aura you used is almost certainly from before that time. His aura will be changed.”

She smacked herself in the forehead. “Crud, you’re right!  Wouldn’t it be just like them to hide him in plain sight as a New Dawn priest? They’ve had ample time to brainwash him.”

Her expression changed from frustration to horror. “Oh no. Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?” Grimm asked.

“What if he was one of the priests Balor used in that sacrifice up on the mountain? By the time he and Loki were done fighting there was nothing left but ash!”

Grimm thought about that a minute, then shook his head. “No, Balor is a coward. He would not risk his only insurance against Lucien taking the field against him.”

Nox let out a gusty sigh, her brow still furrowed with concern. “Let’s hope you’re right. The question now is, how do we find him if his aura has changed?”

“Find the one who changed him. They would have to take a graft of the new aura off one of Katya’s minions. We can start with the priest who tried to change Loki.”

“He’ll be at the Convocation in Balor’s place. Everyone is furious that the old bastard won’t be there to own up to his crimes.” She let out an amused snort. “Or they’re terrified of what he’ll do while they’re away from their homes. I doubt he’ll be the only one sending a proxy. Oh well, it’ll work out better for us this way. We just need a little something that belongs to the priest, maybe a bit of cloth?”

Grimm’s ears perked up. “I can handle that part. Will a strand of hair do?”

“That will be perfect,” Nox said.  She picked up the dragon and took a small key out from between its wings. It slowly wound down, and lay as if asleep in her hand. “Well, I guess we’d better get some rest as well. Tomorrow is going to be a long day…”

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Nox and Grimm: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? October 5, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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The desk in Nox’s suite was littered with notes. Enchanted paper messenger birds, sent by her father, had arrived in a steady stream for the past several hours. One by one they would appear overhead with a tiny *pop* and then flutter down to the desk and unfold themselves, revealing the message written within.

Nox sighed as another one appeared. “I wish father wouldn’t have waited till the day before the Convocation to go over everything.” She scribbled a quick reply, dropped her quill pen back into the inkwell and made the intricate folds to turn the paper back into a bird.  It chirped as the enchantments activated. Then it zipped upwards and circled twice around the room before disappearing with another *pop*.

Loki paced restlessly nearby, staring out the floor-length windows that lined the one wall.  “I think he hoped to be done and back before today. Resetting the defenses around the borders should not have taken this long.”  He stopped by the desk, reading the latest message and shook his head. “He should have let Grimm handle it.”

“Except that Grimm wouldn’t leave my side, not while my sight was still impaired.” Nox looked at the absurdly large pile of papers in front of her and grimaced. “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m almost wishing I was still blind. Almost.”

“Don’t even joke about, that, luv.”  Loki picked up a blank sheet of paper and made as if to take the quill, then put the paper down and went back to pacing.

Nox waved off the next bird that appeared and sent it up to flit about the roof. She got up and placed herself right in Loki’s path, forcing him to stop. She frowned up at him, hands on her hips. “You have been wearing a groove into my floor all night. C’mon, out with it. What’s got you in such a bother?”

“You aren’t the only one getting messages from Lucien.”  He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her.

Nox’s frown deepened as she read it. “Do we go to war…why in the world would he ask you to make that call?”

He gave her an incredulous look. “You really don’t know? Bloody Hel, the sheer number of things your parents kept from you is appalling.”

She rolled her eyes. “If I got upset every time I found out another of their secrets, I’d spend my whole life yelling at them.”  She took his hand and pulled him over to a long, squashy couch that Grimm usually sprawled out on when he stayed in her rooms. She sat and patted the cushion next to her.  “Have a seat. We might as well be comfy while you fill me in.”

Loki sat on the edge of the couch and leaned forward, his forarms resting on his thighs. “Back when we were all still little, your father and mine swore a binding oath to protect each other’s children, should anything go wrong. The oath was sealed in blood and tied to their elements. It was probably my father’s idea,” he said, with a sad smile. “It was the sort of grand gesture he liked to make.”

Nox nodded, reaching a hand out to hold his. “That’s why my father rescued you, and kept you hidden. I know that.”

Loki turned to look at her, fires burning in the depths of his cinnamon colored eyes. “But do you know why he never went to war? Despite having his best friend murdered? He and my father were like brothers.”

“I had wondered about that,” Nox said. “Tactically it made no sense for him to allow Balor so much time to secure his hold on the Fire territories. And you turned twenty one a few years ago.”  She pursed her lips, thinking the puzzle through. “Something held him back. I assumed it was my mother, but…oh, great skies. Your brother is alive?”

“We think so. I hope so. Nothing else could have stayed your father’s wrath.”

“But you don’t know for sure?” Nox asked.

Loki shook his head. “The firethorn vines would not have…” he paused, looking slightly ill. “My brother was only four. There wasn’t much left of the adults.” He swallowed a few times, and took a deep breath. “I still have nightmares about what I saw. But my uncle has dropped enough hints to keep us guessing as to what happened to Kynon.”

“All those years you worked as a spy,” Nox said, her eyes widening. “Using masking potion to change your face, visiting all those foreign territories. You were looking for him!”

“And now I have to decide if the hunt should stop,” Loki said, his expression bleak. “There is still a little over a year until he reaches twenty one, and I am the only member of my family left that can release Lucien from his oath before that time. Odds are Kynon is dead but, how can I make that call? Weigh his life against everyone else who may suffer if we let my uncle live?”

Nox stared at him for a long moment. Then she slugged him in the arm. “Did it never once occur to you that I might be able to help find him? I am an expert in auramancy, you know.”

“Ow!” he said. “Easy, luv. Your mother said there was no way to do an aura trace.”

“My mother,” she said, angrily. “Who was being used as a puppet by the Shadowkin for the past twenty years. The same Shadowkin that works with your uncle.”

Loki’s face went pale. “Oh, bugger me sideways.  She was ‘helping’ direct my search.”

“Not anymore,” Nox said, her face set and determined. “Do you have something of his? Something personal?”

“Of course.” He got up and rummaged through the pockets of his coat, pulling out a small, glass dragon that was a roly-poly version of the tattoo on his arm. “Try not to laugh. I was nine when I made this for him.”

Nox took it and held it up for close inspection. She whispered a few words and the dragon glowed, a mix of scarlet and reddish gold light swirling around it. “I can see small marks on the horns. I take it they turn?”

“Yes. It’s a night light. He was afraid of the dark, so I made a light that would only turn on when we both twisted one of the horns. I used to help him light it every night, so that he would not be afraid.” He stopped to clear his throat. “He gave it to me the night of the attack, when our parents hid me in the  cistern. He couldn’t swim, so they had to find somewhere else to hide him. But it was so dark down there, he wanted me to have it.”  He had to stop again, his voice too choked with emotion to go on.

Nox turned the dragon this way and that, studying every inch of it. There wasn’t much of his brother’s aura left, but it would have to be enough. “Well, I already know how to replicate scraps of auras. I did the same with Grimm a few years back, to help break a spell Mother put on him.” She nodded to herself. “Yes, I will make it be enough.”

Loki leaned over and gave her a long, passionate kiss. “Thank you,” he said.

Nox was so flustered by the kiss she could barely sputter out a reply. “Oh, well, I um, haven’t done anything yet.”

“Yes, you have,” Loki said, holding her close. “You’ve given me hope. More than I’ve had in a very long time.”  He let her go and walked over the desk, writing out a quick reply to Lucien. “We will play political chess with my uncle a little longer until we are sure, one way or another about Kynon.”

“If he lives, I will find him,” Nox said.

There were fires burning again in Loki’s eyes. “And then we go to war.”

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