From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: Clippings by Astra Kyne Murdock (Saturday, November 04, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Among the Flowers by Astra Kyne Murdock (Saturday, November 04, 2006)

(posted Saturday, November 04, 2006)

Astra Kyne Murdock sat in the sealed safe-room of CCCP headquarters with her face buried in her hands.

Garvey. It had all started with Garvey.

He'd been the chief researcher behind the super-soldier program that had triggered her father's original powers. He'd been responsible for deaths of dozens at least--not the least of which had been her father's first love.

He tried to execute John Murdock. He should have died in the explosion when her father fought back with everything he had in him.

John Murdock had been sure he was dead. Then a few months ago--he had somehow turned up in the Rogue Isles. Surveillance photos showed him with two mechanical arms and a lot of scars, but it was still him.

But he was there, and they were here, and after an initial bout of terror on Astra's part, it seemed that he could not possibly reach them.

Even when he put out a contract--not on John or Sera, but the twins--it seemed he couldn't touch them. As long as the twins never set foot in Siren's Call or Bloody Bay....

And he must have managed to alienate so many people that no one seemed to want to take his contract.

Then Aedan had gotten the note, signed with a grinning skull. Poorly written, really a scrawl, someone named "Grim Gambol" threatened to start killing children with the name of Murdock if the twins didn't surrender themselves to him.

Aedan hadn't believed it.

Then the package had come, containing a child's severed hand.

And another.

Frantic, Aedan had called Aunt Vickie and the two of them had set off to take down Grim Gambol, challenging him to meet them in Bloody Bay.

They couldn't touch him. Aunt Vickie had ended up in the hospital, and Aedan had been forced to flee, bleeding and battered.

Her mother had tried to reason with him, to appeal to him. He only laughed at her, and told her that he was a ghost and could not be hurt, was committed to 200 years of evil on earth in exchange for revenge he had taken, and that he didn't need money...that Garvey had offered him something else. He held out the cruel hope that if they found that same thing--what it was he would not say--he would drop the contract.

Then, at the Halloween party, a package had been delivered to her by the crazed Circus Master.

It had contained the severed head of a child, carved like a pumpkin, with a candle still burning inside.

She'd gone a lot crazy then, and she would have just walked out the door and turned herself over to him. Anything to stop the killings. Children. Innocent children, who were only dead because she and Aedan were still alive and free, and not in Garvey's hands. Others had tried to stop her, but only the arrival of her father had really gotten through to her. Her father had agreed to let her go--but only if Grim would fight her, fairly.

Through some bizarre means, Grim spoke to her through the Circus Master's empty hat. As she and her father desperately tried to strike a bargain, he killed another child while she listened.

And had said that there were only two options. She should surrender herself to him to take to Garvey, or they should find the thng he wanted and give it to him.

And that was when her father had Mandragora snatch her away and seal her into the safe room, where she cried until she had no more tears left to cry, and all that remained was fury.

Fury. And the determination to stop him, no matter what it took. No matter what.

And to start with, she would lie to her father, tell him she intended to leave it all in his hands. And then--

She had a plan. But first, she had to get out of here.

First, the lie.