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Nox and Grimm – A Convocation of Elements, Part 3 May 3, 2014

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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(Picking up the story where I left off last November… sorry for the long gap, it was a rough winter! And I’m a little rusty, so comments will be very welcome!)

—-

Nox was a daughter of the House of Ice. She was supposed to be calm, steady, immovable in the face of adversity. Giggling like a loon was just not done. She struggled to keep a straight face while Grimm threatened to toss the assembled nobles ‘off his lawn’ if they didn’t behave.

“How am I supposed to follow that?” she whispered.

Loki leaned over and whispered back, “I don’t know luv, but you’d better do something soon. This crowd is starting to get ugly.”

She looked at the faces of the men and women standing around her, gauging the best way to address them. They were angry, obviously. They’d been scolded like children and told that the youngest, and yet-to-be-confirmed representative in the Convocation was to enter the Hall before them.  To say that they were pissed off at her was an understatement.  The fact that every one of them was both physically larger and more powerful than she was should have had her shaking in her boots.

But Nox was a true child of Ice. She’d be damned before she let a crusty old pack of politicians intimidate her. It was time to follow in her father’s footsteps, and take charge.

She put a finger and thumb into her mouth and let out a whistle so piercing that the nobles standing nearest to her all jumped, with several of them landing in a heap on the lower stairs.  “If you want answers, I will give them to you.”  She gave those standing in her way the same cold, measuring look that her father always used, and the crowd reluctantly parted.

When she gained the top stair, she gestured toward the entrance to the Convocation hall. “You need look no further than the Ward stone at the end of this passage. All the sigils of the Houses are there, in the order that they swore fealty to the House of Winds when the Convocation was formed. As you can see, Ice is the next in line.”

This was it. The moment she’d prepared for her whole life, to be confirmed as heir to Ice. Nox fought past the brutal heat of the day and focused on summoning the sliver of pure elemental Ice she would need to activate the Ward stone. For a brief moment she thought she’d failed, but then her palm tingled and a tiny shard formed. With a triumphant cry she flung it down the hall, letting loose the Air casting she’d prepared to speed it on its way.

She had not, however, taken into account that this building was designed by the Wind Lord himself, to enhance the works of his people.

Casting marks that summoned the North Wind lit up along the entire length of the hallway as her Air casting moved past them, glittering cold and white.  Their energy touched the little Ice shard and sparked off a howling gale, coating everything in an inch-deep layer of frost and slamming into the Ward stone with enough force to make the entire building ring like a bell.

Nox covered her mouth with one hand. “Oh dear. That was a little bigger than I expected.”

Loki grimaced, radiating heat to melt the frost from his jacket. “That’s the least of your worries, luv. Take a look at the Ward stone.”

It was only then that Nox noticed that everyone else was staring at it in shock.  Not one, but three sigils were lit on the stone pillar.  One for Ice. One for the Northern Air tribes, and the first mark on the pillar glowed brightest of all – the sigil for Wind Lord Galen’s House, Zephyr.

Grimm’s deep, rumbling voice echoed outwards from the heart of the Convocation Hall.  “All Hail the Lady Zephyr, heir to Ice and Winds.”

This was not in the plan. Loki kept a wary eye on the crowd, waiting to see who would be the first to pick a fight over Grimm’s pronouncement. Not surprisingly, it was Lord Snow. He’d already challenged Nox once that day, and now he looked like he was in the midst of an apoplectic fit.

“Black hair,” he sputtered, jabbing a finger at Nox. “Every damned one of your family has black hair!  You lying bastards, you have no right to rule Ice! You’re Air kin!”

Nox gave him an innocent look. “We have never hidden the fact that we summon the North Wind.”

“That doesn’t matter!”

Loki put a restraining hand on Lord Snow’s arm. “You are forgetting, the sigils for both Air and Ice lit for her.”

Nox nodded, as unruffled as ever. “Galen’s wife, Elenna remarried into the House of Ice when Galen died. Her children were adopted as the heirs, and the Houses of Ice and Winds have been joined as one ever since.  Legally that gives us every right to rule.”

A commotion to their left caught Loki’s eye.  The representative from the House of the Sun moved forward, and the crowd shifted nervously away from him.

Loki ignored Nox’s protest and moved to stand protectively in front of her, the dragon tattoo coiling restlessly on his forearm.

The Sun priest stopped in front of him and raised his voice to make it carry.  “All that has been proved here today is that this…abomination,” he said, pointing at Nox, “is more of a mongrel than we already thought. Do we allow a half-blood freak to enter these hallowed halls?”

Dragonfire coiled around Loki’s fists. “Watch your tongue, lackey, or I’ll remove it.” He turned his burning gaze on the crowd. “I doubt there’s a one of us here, outside of Grimm that has a single element. The Houses have been inter-marrying for years. Anyone want to deny that?”

The priest sneered at him. “My element is pure.”

Loki gave him a disgusted look. “Mutilating yourself to replace your true element with another doesn’t make you pure; it only makes you a fool.”  He leaned in, until he was an inch from the priest’s face. “What will you do when night falls, Sun worshipper?  The fires of earth will still answer my call when your distant star has fallen below the horizon.”

A trickle of nervous sweat rolled down the priest’s brow. “Do not question the power of the all-conquering Sun!”

Loki leaned back, and crossed his arms. “Wrong answer, priest. But while we’re questioning things, I’d like to know why you’re here.  I don’t seem to remember acknowledging your right to break away from Fire, and form a new House.  And since you murdered my father before the House of the Sun was formed, he couldn’t have done it.”

“You would cast us out?” The priest looked oddly triumphant.  “Is that it, boy?  You want to start a civil war? I assure you, we will be glad to give it to you!”

“No. I want justice, for everyone you’ve killed.”  The dragon tattoo flowed down into Loki’s hand to form an obsidian blade, and he held the tip to the priest’s throat.  “Kneel, you bastard.”

The priest let out a harsh laugh, and raised his voice once again to play to the crowd. “War is coming! Think hard on which side you choose, for there will be no middle ground.”  Then he dropped a small coin to the ground, and fell backwards into the portal that it opened beneath him, and was gone…

<–Previous   ~~Go to Beginning~~

Nox and Grimm – A Changed Man October 11, 2013

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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…”

<- Previous       —Beginning

Nox and Grimm – Knight Wind September 6, 2013

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The chill of the flagstones woke Morvrain, as he found himself still lying on the floor of the guard room in a pool of his own blood. The stab wound in his gut burned like acid, and if he could have caught his breath he would have howled in pain.

The Wind Knight, Grimm, had managed to get the door to the chamber shut, and was busy activating the protective casting marks on either side of the door. It shook under repeated blows from the Truthfinders outside – they were all Stone kindreds like Morvrain, and he knew it was only a matter of time until they broke in.  Them, and whatever that thing that was that controlled Malach.

Grimm turned and knelt down beside him. “The protections on this room are solid, but very old. They’ll hold for a little while, but we will need to move soon.” He placed his hands palm down on either side of Morvrain’s wound, and closed his eyes.  “Try to stay still. This won’t hurt, but it will feel odd.”

Warmth spread outwards from his hands, and Morvrain shuddered as he watched the hole from the sword wound close itself. It would have been fascinating to watch if it hadn’t been his own stomach writhing back into its original shape.

The pounding on the door stopped, but the wall behind them rattled as the other Truthfinders tried to rip open a new entrance. “Forget me,” he said, “go and get that creature out of Malach! Kill him if you must, but free him!”

Grimm let out a rude snort. “I’m sure Katya would love that. Leave you here to bleed out, only to have her jump out of Malach the second I cut him down? She’d have me framed for two murders then.”

The aching cold left Morvrain’s midriff, and strength slowly returned to his limbs. He found he could sit up, with Grimm’s help. “It’s a she?  And you know it?”

“I ought to. I nearly married her.”

Morvrain thought of the oily black substance that had run from Malach’s eyes, and he recoiled in horror.

“To be fair she was a lot prettier back then,” Grimm said, pushing himself back to his feet. “Although, I guess that was a borrowed body as well.” He shook his head. “Women. You can’t live with them, and I can’t seem to kill this one. But it’s not for lack of trying.”

The wall next to the door started to crack under the repeated assaults.  “Hmm, time to go, I think.” Grimm held out a hand to help Morvrain to his feet. “Are you afraid of heights?”

“No,” Morvrain said cautiously. “Why?”

“Good.” Grimm clapped his hands together in a quick pattern, and a gust of wind shot them straight upwards.  A panel in the ceiling slid aside just in time to let them past, and they rocketed up through a narrow tunnel, popping out into the leaden skies over the Convocation hall. The rain sheeted around them as they hovered, at least fifty feet above the ground, but they remained dry in the middle of a bubble of air.

Later, Morvrain would be pleased to remember that he had not screamed aloud. If he had had a lot to drink he might admit that it was probably only because he was shaking so hard his teeth rattled in his head. At the time, however, he was still in too much shock to say anything.

Grimm put a steadying hand on his shoulder, and another wave of warmth rushed through him. “Hang in there, friend. You only need to do one more thing before you can rest.” They floated across the rooftops, and stopped again over a broad, flat area. “The main hall is below us. I need you to break that fire charm she put on the Wardstone. I can’t hold off your colleagues, and her, and put the stone back into the correct pattern at the same time.”

Morvrain forced his sluggish thoughts back into motion. “Won’t that charm start affecting us again as soon as we go back in?”

“Probably,” Grimm said. He lowered them down onto the roof, and carefully removed a few roof tiles to reveal a maintenance hatch. “If it makes you feel the need to get fanatical about something, focus on breaking the charm.” He pulled the hatch open, and peered inside. “Are you ready?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Grimm gave him a crooked smile. “Down we go.”

They lifted up abruptly, and shot down through the opening, at a speed that Morvrain was convinced had left his stomach somewhere back on the roof. The hall spread out below them, a cavernous amphitheater with balconies lining the viewing boxes that covered the back wall. They flew over the tiers of chairs, through the open doors and landed right behind the Wardstone.

Morvrain had a single moment when they landed to draw in as much energy from the stone as he could, and then the charm hit him again. It was like a fever in the mind, burning away reason until there was nothing left but a wild, uncontrollable rage. And it needed a target.

Grimm was already locked in combat with the other Truthfinders. Something in Morvrain’s mind snapped when he saw this stranger fighting his men. His friends, his comrades. The man had dared to lie to him, a Truthfinder, if only by omission. The rage built, a searing blaze that turned his vision red.

Morvrain’s sword was in his hand, glowing like a beacon as moved to stab Grimm in the back.

As he raised the blade, a small voice to whispered to him, “How is this justice?”

His sword had only spoken to him so clearly once before, on the day it had chosen him to join the ranks of Truthfinders. He froze, arm poised, as the Knight fought desperately to keep the other Truthfinders at bay.

“Hurry up!” Grimm yelled. “I don’t want to have hurt them!”

Morvrain shook himself, as if waking from a dream. The sword hummed in approval and grew heavier, pulling his arm down to point at the base of the Wardstone.  Odd markings glowed on its surface like coals, tampering with the protections built into the ancient pillar.  His eyes narrowed and the boiling rage built up inside him again at the sight of it. The obsession with justice had a new target.

He slashed downwards with all his might, drawing in so much strength from the ancient stones that he sheared straight through the marks and buried his sword in the pillar.

The blast as the Fire charm broke picked him up like a giant hand and threw him back toward the door. He saw the door frame rushing toward him, and closed his eyes, knowing the impact would crush him…

…and then he stopped, hanging in mid-air as the Wind Knight spun around, gathering up all the energy of the blast into a vortex around him.  Morvrain saw a single sigil near the base of the pillar light up. “You’re from House Cyclonis?” he said, stunned. “But they’ve all been dead for two thousand years…”

He had almost convinced himself that the knight was some imposter, a Storm kin masquerading as a Wind Knight. Why else would the rain bend around him? And yet, he had healed Morvrain’s wound, and the markings on the Wardstone were never wrong…

The winds died down and he settled onto the floor. His colleagues lay around the Wardstone, unconscious but apparently unharmed. The knight stalked forward toward Malach, who had somehow remained standing. “Ditch the puppet, Katya, and let us finish this.”

Liquid darkness streamed from Malachs eyes and nose and mouth, and he collapsed into a heap on the floor, convulsing. The oily shadows formed into a cloud that swirled around and settled into the shape of a woman. Morvrain gasped as it solidified into a stunningly beautiful Woods kindred. A teasing smile curled her lips. “Well, beloved? Is this truly the end?”

Grimm motioned to the side with his blade. “Move away from the boy.”

“Ah yes,” she said, laughing. “Trust issues. Very well, my darling Grey. But I want a kiss before I go.”

He moved forward, the sword held out between them. “Death is the only lover you need court now.”

She looked at the blade, licked her lips nervously and backed away. “It wasn’t all an act, you know. Ask that young Fireborn, Loki.  He was a spy once, he will know – even when you infiltrate an enemy’s camp, you can’t lie with someone without feeling something.”  She looked up, her leaf-green eyes welling with tears. “I had to do what I did. You don’t walk away from the Shadowkin, beloved. Not for anyone.”

Morvrain held his breath, captivated by the drama unfolding before his eyes. Her words wrapped around him like a balm. Surely the knight would forgive her?

Then Morvrain’s sword whispered, “She’s lying.”

Grimm must have heard it as well. He exploded into motion, his broadsword scything through the air –but Katya had already darted away.  The lovely apparition collapsed into an oily black cloud that wailed as it ran before him, and disappeared out the front doors into the pouring rain.

The knight skidded to halt just inside the doors. “Oh no. I won’t go running headlong into your traps again, beloved,” he said, the last word ending in a growl. On the floor at his feet, his shadow warped and took on the snarling visage of a hound.

Morvrain looked from him, to his shadow, and back again. “What in Hel’s name are you?”

Grimm shook himself, and his shadow went back to normal. “Complicated.”

And Morvrain’s blade indicated that was the truth. It almost sounded like it was laughing as it said it…


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Nox and Grimm – The Devil Inside August 23, 2013

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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…


<–Previous   –BeginningNext->

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 – Foxy Lady July 20, 2013

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Loki rode through the cobblestone streets of town, whistling cheerfully all the while. There was a note in his pocket, one of Nox’s paper messenger birds. It said simply, ‘bring dinner for three to the workshop’.  He had a picnic basket tied across the back of his saddle, the smell of warm bread wafted out from it. “Just like old times,” he thought.

It had been a long time since he was last at the workshop, but of all the places they’d been together, it was his favorite. It was where he’d first fallen for Nox. Literally and figuratively. He’d collapsed on her doorstep, wounded, and she’d taken him in without question and healed him.  He could still remember that moment, the surprise when he saw who had saved him. Ice kindreds normally had harsh, chiseled features but Nox was soft and sweet, with those big blue eyes. It was like a finding a rose in the wilderness, where no garden had ever been.

He reined in his horse and dismounted in front of a plain brown stone building, which had a curious door with no doorknob. He took the basket in one hand and pressed the other to a small panel set into the frame. Casting marks lit up and crawled across its metal surface, followed by three loud clunks as the wards disengaged the locks.

“Hey honey, I’m home!  And I brought…dinner?”

Grimm was sprawled out across the couch upstairs, as usual. The hound was arguing with a small, white fox that sat on the coffee table in front of him.   He looked up as the door clanged shut. “Oh, it’s you, fireborn.  Come on upstairs.”

“You should have told me you were bringing a date,” Loki said. “I would have gotten dinner for four.”

Grimm flattened his ears. “Very funny.”

The fox laughed so hard it fell over. “It’s hilarious!”

It was only then that Loki noticed the fox had big blue eyes. “Oh no,” he groaned. “What did you do?!”

The hound heaved a sigh. “We were trying to give me some control over my shape-shifting. Unfortunately Nox changed with me the first time we tried it – ”

“ – and now you can’t change her back,” Loki finished for him. “This is damned inconvenient.”

That’s an understatement. I seem to be stuck this way as well now. I’m almost afraid to see what will happen if we try it a third time.”

“I told you, that casting mark needs to be more curved.”

Grimm growled at the fox. “Air doesn’t work like that.”

Nox tapped a stack of papers with her paw. “I got this from Galen’s notes on the key to Winds. I guarantee you, it does.”

“I should think after two thousand years I know a bit more about Air than you.”

“But you don’t know everything.”

Loki plunked the basket of food down between them. “All right, calm down you two. If I remember right shapeshifting takes a lot out of you. You’ll think better on a full stomach.”

Nox’s ears perked up and her nose twitched, but she gave the basket an uncertain look. “How do I eat like this?”

“Same way I always do,” Grimm replied. “Face first. Oh, but watch the nose. If you get sauce up there you will regret it.”

After several minutes, and a failed attempt by Loki not to laugh at Nox’s efforts, they started dissecting the casting. Loki pointed to the offending mark. “You said this was one of Galen’s making. Are you sure you know what it was meant for?”

“It was from the enchantments he was using to try and reverse the curse put on Grimm.”

“But are you sure that was all it did?” Loki said.  He poured himself another glass of fire wine while he waited for her to mull that over.

It was Grimm that finally answered him. “It would have been very like Galen to try and take the curse on himself, to free me.”

“Oh, crud,” Nox said, her tail twitching fitfully. “You’re right. This would have transferred the enchantments to me. No wonder we’re stuck. Galen would have made sure the enchantments couldn’t snap back to you. I don’t think he counted on you willingly changing shape again though.”

“Or being soul-bound to you. We share our fates.”

“All right, we know what happened now,” Loki said. “Can you fix it?”

Nox and Grimm exchanged a long look.

“Maybe.”   

“Possibly.”

“Well, hurry up and find a way to make that a Yes, luv,” Loki said. “This puts a serious crimp in my amorous intentions toward you. My morals are sketchy at best, but I draw the line at fluffy.”

He hadn’t realized a fox could blush, but somehow Nox managed it. Grimm let out howl of laughter.  “Leave it to a fire kin to think with his hormones.”

“At least I’m honest!” Loki said, with an unrepentant grin.

Nox hopped off the table and scooted downstairs. “All right, let’s try it again. I think I know how to fix this.”

“Wow, you must be in a hurry to get some of those amorous intentions,” Grimm teased.

“Grimm!” she wailed, her cheeks glowing beneath the white fur.

Loki leaned against the railing of the loft and chuckled to himself. “Yep. Just like old times.”


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Nox and Grimm – Season 5 Starts This Weekend! July 12, 2013

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Never pick a fight with your muse. She always wins. (and looks good doing it. it’s those fabby hats, I can never pull them of like she does.)

I had planned to wrap up Gathering Shadows before starting a new Season of Nox and Grimm, but my muse dug in her heels. You see, the events in Gathering Shadows have a direct bearing on the current timeline, and telling that story will give away too much of what is to come. Not to mention, there is no way I could wrap up a story that big in 3 episodes as I had planned.

My muse knew this, and kept tapping her foot impatiently while I tried in vain to wrangle out a way to end Gathering Shadows in such a small space. At least she’s been gracious enough not to say “I told you so” now that I’ve gotten back on track.  One of these days I’ll learn to listen to her. 😉

So, you will not only get the new season of Nox and Grimm starting this weekend, but will also have little interludes with Grimm continuing to explore his past, sprinkled amidst the main story. Woohoo!

Since it been such a while since the last N&G, here’s a quick recap.  (or you can check out the flash fiction section to read up on previous seasons )

————-

The last of the Shadowkin is on the loose. Katya roams the land in the shape of a lovely auburn haired Woods kindred, sowing chaos in her wake through her various cats-paws: The Morning Lord, desperate to reclaim the youth he’s lost and the power he’s never had. Serenna, Nox’s mother, twisted by her own fears and thwarted ambitions, she now lies in a coma, cast aside by her evil mistress now that her role as the spy in the House of Ice has been revealed. The priesthood of the New Dawn cult, who are slowly, unwittingly being molded into the next generation of Shadowkin as they carry out their vile experiments in the name of the Undying Sun.

The forces lined up against them are in disarray. Nox was captured and nearly killed by her mother, and her ability to channel the elements is shattered. Grimm has been freed from the Shadowkin curse but in order to save Nox’s life, he had to make another deal with Death and his future remains uncertain. Loki is the only one to come out of the last battle nominally unscathed, but not unchanged. And Lucien, Nox’s father has ridden off to shore up the defenses around their territories, and left Nox to somehow find a way to rule and defend the House of Ice with not much more than her wits.

We will pick up the action this weekend, with Nox making preparations to represent her House at the Great Convocation, a meeting of the ruling Houses of the elemental kindreds that gathers each season. But can she do it without revealing that she can no longer truly summon Ice?…

Bloodlines – Part 9 December 12, 2012

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Virgil wrapped his arms tight around Linda, shielding her with his own body as the haunt loomed over them. “Don’t look at it!” he said. Linda was still screaming, her head buried against his chest.  He yelled in her ear, “The eyes are the windows to the soul! Don’t look, Linda!”

“Get rid of him,” the entity rasped.

Spheres of brilliant amethyst light flew out of Honora’s necklace, taking on the ghostly silhouettes of a dozen old women. Their withered, claw-like hands gripped his arms and a biting cold sunk in all the way down to the marrow of his bones. Virgil tried to pull away, but his limbs had gone numb. “Sophie, need some help here!”

“My niece will not be able to oblige,” one of the women hissed.

Virgil caught a glimpse of Honora’s ghost and had just enough time to think, “Oh, shit.” The ghosts ripped him away from Linda and threw him out of the room.  He landed badly, banging his head against the wall hard enough to see spots.

The ghosts surrounded him, shrieking with laughter as they grabbed him by the hair and dragged him down the hall. Then they flung him down the stairs, and it was only thanks to a bit of training in stunt work that he managed to avoid breaking his neck. Even so, he landed at the bottom of the stairs in a heap and was picked up again by the cadre of hags. They swung him around wildly, smashing him into every chair and coffee table that lined the foyer. The front door flew open, and he was pitched head first onto the porch.

He lay there, stunned, looking up at the heavy pile of snow and ice that coated the eaves. The snow creaked and started to slide.

“Woah!” Impending doom gave Virgil the jolt of adrenaline he needed to finally get his limbs moving. He kicked off with his feet and rolled down the front steps just in time to avoid getting impaled by the icicles that smashed down. A ton of snow followed like a miniature avalanche, blocking the entire entryway.

More screams came from inside. Virgil scrambled to his feet and yelled, “SOPHIE!” He looked around, but the storm windows were all nailed shut. “Dammit, dammit… Wait, the side porch. Hang on, I’m coming!” He sprinted around back, remembering at the last second to jump over the ice-coated porch steps. He skidded across the wet boards, slamming his aching body into the door. He yanked it open and ran inside before the house could drop anything else on him.

The room was peaceful, a small bubble of calm amidst the psychic turmoil in the house. Whatever Sophie had done earlier to clear the room was still holding. Virgil didn’t have time to enjoy it though. He dumped Sophie’s bags across her bed, and let out a short, borderline hysterical laugh as a small bell rolled out. “Of course she packed a traveling kit. She even put color coded labels on everything. Bless her anal retentive little heart.”  He shoved the bell and a few other items into his pockets, and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. “Show time.”

He ran out into the foyer and up the stairs, taking them two at a time, the bell jangling with every step. Alex, Desi, Bryant, and the boys were waiting for him in the upstairs hallway, each of them controlled by a ghost that hovered just behind them. The hag’s shadowy fingers were buried deep in their descendants’ skulls, and they leaned forward to whisper in their ears. The family lurched forward as one, with a collection of blunt objects raised in their hands as weapons.

Virgil crossed his arms and shook his head. “Bad move, ladies. I may not be much good with ghosts, but the living? They’re my specialty.”

For the first time since setting foot in the house, Virgil let his full powers cut loose. Normally he’d be more careful with a civilian’s mind but he could hardly do more damage than the hags. He slipped his thoughts between the ghosts and the living, making his attack as razor sharp as a scalpel. He cut the entities out with brute force and wrapped his will around the living minds, frog-marching everyone into Desiree’s room. “Sleep,” he commanded, and they slumped into a pile at the foot of the bed.

The ghosts were thrown into confusion by being suddenly cut off from their energy source, and Virgil took full advantage of it. He reached into a pocket and flung a handful of tiny poppy seeds at them. “Have fun, ladies,” he said.

The ghosts hesitated, casting their empty eye sockets back and forth between him and scattered seeds. But in the end, they couldn’t resist the bait. They were old world ghosts, from an era where everyone believed that the dead could not resist counting something left out for them. That belief stayed with them after they died, burned into their faded psyches. They wouldn’t be able to leave off counting till the sun rose.

Virgil threaded carefully past them, taking care not to touch them again. The door to Linda’s room was jammed shut, and he knew better than to waste time trying to force it open. The haunt would just laugh and let him wear himself out. Instead, Virgil lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke all around the door jamb. The missing occupants of his first pack of smokes had ended up in Sophie’ kit. He didn’t care how. All that mattered was that tobacco was a prime ingredient used in cleansing ceremonies for centuries by cultures around the world. Virgil was betting that the haunt was from one of them, and had given Honora a phobia about smoking to protect itself.

Virgil immediately sensed when the tension broke, and he kicked the door open. The haunt had Sophie pinned, her back arched across the bed, and she was fighting to keep its hand from her throat.

Virgil rang the bell. The sound sent ripples through the air, and the entity jerked its head around to look at him.

That was all the break that Sophie needed. She plunged her hand deep inside its chest, and started the words of a banishing rite. It howled, and Virgil rang the bell again. It tried to pull away from Sophie, but she gritted her teeth and held on.

The necklace slipped from its fingers. Virgil raised the bell one last time, and smashed it down into the purple gem. The bell rang, and the whole house shuddered in sympathy. The entity let out a rising shriek that must have set dogs howling for miles around. Virgil wrapped his will around every mind in the house to keep the haunt from possessing them, and Sophie ripped her hand out of it, removing its anchor to the living world.

“I will come back,” it snarled, and vanished.

“No, you won’t,” Sophie said, and finished the last words of the rite.

The whole house seemed to let out a collective sigh. The ordinary sounds of pre-dawn crept back in, birds chirping and the distant sounds of the highway. Sophie held Linda like a child, rocking her and letting her sob all over her shoulder.

Virgil sat down heavily on the hope chest at the foot of the bed and sucked the last bit of life out of his cigarette, his hands shaking so hard he could barely hold it. “This makes us even now, right?” he said, giving Sophie a lopsided smile.

“Maybe. I’ll have to check my notes, you’ve run up quite a tab,” she said, and they both started laughing.

Later…

Virgil and Sophie stood together in the parlor where Honora’s body lay, forgotten in all of the madness. Sophie placed the pieces of the necklace in the coffin by her Aunt’s side. She had made sure to pulverize the stone, and broken every link on the chain.

“The crystalline matrix of the stone was like a primitive silicon chip.” Sophie said, her face pale and drawn. “The haunt broke their minds, arranged things so that they worshipped it, and when they died it stored them in the crystal just like we do in computers.”  She brushed the last bits off her hands and looked away from the body. “I would have been next, if the Agency hadn’t recruited me. I always thought my mother ran away to marry my father. Turns out she was just running away.”

Virgil gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Lucky for us the precognitives saw a better place for your Talents.”

“Lucky for me, maybe, but not my relatives,” Sophie said, looking out at the stairway in the hall. The rest of the family was still sleeping upstairs. It was better for them to do that, until the case workers from the Agency arrived.  “When I left, she moved onto them”

Virgil nodded, but didn’t say anything. Their outrageous behavior made perfect sense now.  Desi’s nymphomania, Alex’s belligerent paranoia, Bryant’s thirst for the power he would never possess—even the boys’ bullying was a symptom—and poor Linda, who almost got what she thought she wanted. The mind does not react well to being tampered with, and Honora had not gone easy on her relatives. It was going to take a lot of work to give them back anything like a normal life.

Sophie shook herself and squared her shoulders, putting on her business face. “Well, I had best start clearing the whole house, from the bottom up. I intend to make sure that haunt doesn’t come back.”

“Did you ever find out who it was?” Virgil asked.

“It was so old it had forgotten everything, except the need for more power,” Sophie said. “I’ll have to do some digging through our family tree to figure it out.”

“Well, if you need any help, I’ll be here,” he said.

Sophie gave him a weary smile of thanks, and headed down the hall to the root cellar to get to work.

Virgil waited till she left, then lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke down toward Honora’s face. There was no reaction. He gave a satisfied nod and looked more closely at her pinched, pallid visage. There was no sign of the bruises around her neck. It had all been an illusion to manipulate him into retrieving the necklace. Honora’s ghost had shown no sign of her psyche being broken, either. The other ghosts had been a pack of shrieking lunatics, while Honora’s every move was planned and rational. She must have worked willingly with the haunt. But Sophie didn’t need to know that.

Virgil leaned over and whispered in her ear. “I hope they have a nice, hot corner of Hell waiting for you, lady,” he said. “You messed up a lot of lives.”

Then he shut the coffin lid and walked outside to wait for case workers.

~Finis~

<-Bloodlines, Part 8

Bloodlines – Part 8 December 5, 2012

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Virgil took the lead and checked the hallway before heading up to the second floor. A moth-eaten runner carpeted the stairs, its faded flowers muffling their steps. He glanced back down to where the door to the root cellar should have been. It was still veiled, but he could hear the poltergeist’s guttural growl coming from somewhere inside. It was restless, pacing; it wanted to be let out.

“Are you hearing that?” he whispered to Sophie.

Sophie nodded and raised a trembling hand to her neck. The bruises from where the haunt had tried to strangle her stood out, livid against her skin.  “I still can’t hear any of the other ghosts, but that one is loud and clear now.” She let her hand drop, visibly pulling herself together. “Where is everyone else?”

Virgil let his senses sweep through the house. Fear hung thick in the air, like a cloying fog. “They’re in their rooms. No one is sleeping though,” he said, “It’s like they’re all just lying there, waiting for something to happen. Except for Linda. She’s having a nightmare.”

“Night terrors, emotional outbursts, that’s what’s been fueling the ghost! The attacks were involuntary!” Sophie said. “If so, that changes everything. No premeditation means she gets therapy instead of jail time.”

“Maybe,” Virgil replied doubtfully. Something about this still didn’t seem right. He ran a hand across the door to Linda’s bedroom. “She may come up swinging. Keep an eye on that poltergeist.”

The door wasn’t locked. The room inside could have belonged to a child; there were piles of stuffed animals on the bed, glittery stickers on the ceiling and photos stuck in the frame of a mirror. Dirty clothes were strewn about the floor and spilling out of a closet, the piles dotted liberally with candy wrappers. Virgil had seen teenagers with cleaner rooms.

An even bigger shock was Linda herself. She lay on her bed, still fully clothed, and curled up in the same fetal position Virgil had gone into to defend himself from the poltergeist. She even had her arms up to protect her head and neck. She was talking in her sleep, a pitiful, desperate litany. “I don’t want it. I don’t want it anymore. Please don’t do this. I don’t want it anymore.”

Virgil eased quietly into the room, not wanting to wake her yet. He took a deep breath and let it out, preparing himself for the unpleasant task of going into an unbalanced mind. Sophie closed the door behind them and stood on guard.

Linda started to thrash about, as if wrestling an opponent who was trying to pin her down. The similarities to his own attack were too many to ignore. Virgil took another deep breath and slipped into her nightmare.

They were back in the hallway that led to the root cellar. Honora beckoned to them, and they walked eagerly to the trap door. This was what Linda had waited thirty long years for: the day her mother would finally show her the secret to her family’s power over ghosts.

Honora walked slowly down the stairs and took off her amethyst necklace. “It is time for you to meet your ancestors, my dear.”

Linda hesitated at the top of the stairs, a vague fear settling into the pit of her stomach. She had never liked the root cellar; it had an ugly feel to it. A sour smell of rot wafted up at her, but her mother was still calling to her.

“Come down, Linda.” Honora held out the necklace. ”You wanted power, and I can give it to you.”

Linda ran down the stairs before she could think better of it. She reached out and took the necklace.

A cold smile touched Honora’s withered lips. “Hold it up to your eye, dear. Tell me what you see.”

Linda looked through it, and ghosts appeared all around, bathed in amethyst light. Generations of women, all with a strong family resemblance: brown hair, a motherly physique like Linda’s though some were a little taller, and all of them had the gift for working with ghosts. Whoever held this necklace would have a wellspring of knowledge to draw on that ran back centuries.

Then she looked closer, and saw what lived in the dark.

Virgil recognized it. Anyone who worked with ghosts knew there were malevolent spirits, old ghosts that wanted nothing more than to keep a hold on the world of the living. They could bend other, lesser ghosts to their will and use that gathered power to torment anyone unfortunate enough to enter their domain. The necklace worked just like the specially insulated microchips the Agency used to transport ghosts. The crystal must have had a similar structure to silicon, storing all of the ‘data’ of a person’s psyche. Who knew how long the old haunt had lurked in its depths?

Linda only knew that it terrified her, and she kept reliving that first, traumatic contact.

She ran up the stairs with her mother close on her heels.

“You must seal yourself to the well of souls, Linda!” Honora shouted. “Look through the gem, and let the spirit consume you! Our bloodline made a deal, and the pact must be kept!”

Linda ran, but the entity flew out of the cellar and landed on her back. It clawed at her, trying to reach the necklace she held clenched in her hand, and force her to look through it.

Honora hadn’t counted on her daughter fighting back. Desperation gave Linda the strength to send a telekinetic blast down the hall, and her mother fell backwards, down the stairs, and hit her head. The entity shrieked and retreated after her.

Linda threw the necklace down the stairs and locked the trap door. Then she ran out of the house… Later, after her mother’s body had been removed, she did everything in her power to trap the evil presence in the cellar, even veiling the doorway so no one could wander down there and get caught by it. But it kept getting out, and every time she failed, her fear made it a little stronger…

She woke up, sat bolt upright in her bed, and screamed.

Virgil was physically thrown back, but he managed to keep his hold on her mind.  He scrambled back onto the bed and grabbed her hands, forcing her to look him in the eye. “Linda, listen to me. It’s over. We know it was self-defense. I need you to calm down.”

Outside the room, the entity howled and battered against the bedroom door, setting Linda into a fresh bout of screaming.

Sophie had her shoulder braced against the door, and Virgil could feel her straining to shield the room against it. She yelled out, “It’s gotten too strong! I think it’s feeding off the rest of my relatives. I’m going to need some ghosts to combat it.” She pulled the necklace out of her pocket and held it up.

Virgil and Linda screamed in unison, “NO!”

The entity’s howl turned triumphant. It burst through the door and knocked Sophie into the wall. A stench of rot filled the room, and the entity stalked over to the bed. “Time for you to join your ancestors, Linda…”

<–Bloodlines, Part 7  ~~~|||~~~  Bloodlines, Part 9 ->

Bloodlines – Part 7 November 27, 2012

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Virgil found Sophie curled up on her bed with a book. She glanced up as he shut the door behind him.

“I still can’t get through to HQ… Oh my god, what happened?” she asked, jumping to her feet.

“Time to put your game face on, babe. This just turned into an official case,” Virgil said, and eased himself gingerly onto the cot. He ached everywhere from the mauling the ghost had given him, and the scratches on his arms were throbbing.

Sophie grabbed the blanket off her bed and wrapped it around him. “I think you’re right. Something has cut me off from the ghosts here.”

“Not something. Someone. I just don’t know who yet.” He rolled his head from side to side to work out the knots in his neck and back. “I did a little poking around, to see if I could stir something up. And boy-howdy did I. Our strangler is a class four malevolent haunt, and I’m pretty damned sure it’s being controlled,” he said, giving his partner a cautious look. She looked as composed as she was going to get, considering the circumstances. “I don’t know of any good way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. Your aunt was its first victim.”

She sat down slowly, her face a mask of grief. “She was a skilled Medium, Virgil. Better than I am. How did it get to her?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe it caught her nodding off, like it did with you.”

She brushed away the tears gathering in her eyes. “Who are the suspects.”

“Everyone in the house, excluding you and me. Your entire family has the gift. Although I may be able to rule out most of them.”

Sophie took a deep breath and let it out, visibly trying to push aside her grief. “Fine then, let’s work the case. If we shut down the k…killer, and the haunt goes away. Give me your impressions.”

Virgil took a moment to think back over every contact he’d had with her family—handshakes, unintentional bumping of hands or feet at the table, or, in Desi’s case, completely intentional contact. He started with the least likely candidates.

“I think we can safely count out Alex’s three thug-lings,” he said. “I give them a year before they move on from tormenting neighborhood pets to bullying their school mates, but they don’t have a scrap of brains between them; certainly not enough to control a malign spirit, even if they worked together on it.”

“Desiree wants whatever she can get away with, and she has the Talent. But both attacks were too calculated and controlled for someone with impulse issues. That, and she’s terrified of ghosts.”

Sophie nodded in agreement. “You can’t control what you fear.”

“Mmm-hmm. Alex is already redecorating the house in his mind. So much for a son’s love,” Virgil said, making a face. “But he’s a minor talent, and as subtle as a wrecking ball. Whoever is setting up all the veils around the house has skill and a light touch. Which rules out Bryant. He has some power and wants more, but he’s clumsy, a poser.”

Sophie’ eyes widened. “Linda.”

“Only one left, though I almost ruled her out,” Virgil said. “She must be good enough to veil any talent from me, and keep you from connecting with any ghosts.”

“She never moved out. That would give her close ties to the spirits here,” Sophie said. “She’s been nearby and gotten upset every time the poltergeist acted up: the lights going out in the entry hall, the china breaking. And she would have felt it when I tried to talk with my Aunt’s ghost. The attack there came almost immediately. The only one that doesn’t add up is the attack on you.”

Virgil held up the necklace, and Sophie gasped. “That’s my Aunt’s! She used it to commune with the spirits in the house.”

Virgil gave it to her. “Linda was veiling that hallway to the root cellar where I found it, so she must be afraid or ashamed of what happened there. Her mother’s ghost went straight back there. I got to feel the re-enactment of her murder first hand.”

“They said she fell down the stairs,” Sophie said, cradling the gaudy gem in her hands.

“Nope. I ended up out by the front door when I was caught in that memory loop. Honora fought it, and tried to get away,” Virgil said. He rubbed at his sopping wet hair with a corner of the blanket.  “The thing I want to know is, why go after her?

Sophie wrapped her arms around herself. “Power doesn’t make sense with Linda. She already has access to all the energy in the house, and she could have simply stolen the necklace. Unless my Aunt locked her away from the ghosts for some reason?”

“Or wrote her out of the will,” Virgil pointed out. “She was pretty testy with Alex, and people have done worse to get their inheritance.”

Sophie stared at her Aunt’s necklace, which dangled from her fingers. “We’re going to have to question Linda to find out for sure. All of this is still circumstantial. There might be someone else we’re not aware of.”

Virgil doubted it, but he wasn’t going to argue with her. People weren’t always rational about family. “All we have to do is get past her killer poltergeist, top-notch veils, and anything else she can do that we don’t know about. Piece of cake.” He tossed off the blanket and dug through his suitcase for the the pistol he always kept in a hidden compartment. “I know she’s family, but we have to go in assuming she’s armed and dangerous. If you can’t stay detached enough to handle that, we’ll have to run into town to send word to HQ, and get someone else run the investigation.”

“No,” she said quickly, “I can do this.”

Virgil gave her an encouraging nod. “If we move fast we can shut her down before anyone else gets hurt. I’ll lock down her mind; you keep the haunt off my back while I question her. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch her sleeping and have our answers before she wakes up.”

Virgil tried not to get twitchy while he waited for Sophie to get dressed again, with limited success. Something about this whole situation still didn’t feel right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. That was the problem with being the canary in the coal mine; no one figures out what’s wrong till the bird keels over…

<-Bloodlines #6     ~~~|||~~~   Bloodlines #8 ->

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