From the Story Arc: Grim's Gamble

Previous Story in the Arc: Shadowfall by John Murdock (Thursday, November 16, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Good Enough by Victoria Victrix (Sunday, November 19, 2006)

(posted Thursday, November 16, 2006)

Aedan’s call had found Vickie already halfway back to the Murdock apartment. Bella’s found her on the stairs of the building itself. All the way there she had berated herself for stupidity. At the least she should have briefed Aedan before the ambush. Then he would have known that there were backup plans. He would have known, and he could have told the others.

Now…according to Aedan, Astra’s Kheld symbiot Kyne was babbling about Astra being “gone.” Kyne herself was loopy, and Bella couldn’t tell why. Whatever had hit them both had been magical in nature…

“I feel like frikkin’ Elrond,” she muttered, letting herself into the Murdock’s front door. “It’s me!” she shouted as she sprinted for the poor kid’s bedroom, over-full with both parents, Belladonna Aura, Aedan, Shuma, Zvezda, and JJ all crammed into it.

Good thing she was small…

She could feel the dark magics from the door; didn’t even need to run a spell to identify them. They tangled around Astra like a Warshade’s strangling energy, and no wonder Kyne was loopy and Astra herself was MIA. The poor kid must have been hysterical as she fled her friends, and given the whammy Grim Gambol had smacked her with, it was surprising her psyche was still here. Anyone else would have found themselves cannoned into next week…

Well, dispelling this sort of thing was field magic, mystic medicine of the sort Vickie did without even thinking about it. She cracked her knuckles, called up her spells and let them fly.

With a gasp, a little color came back to those pale cheeks, and the girl stopped shaking like an aspen in a high wind. < She’s back! > Kyne croaked in relief, and Vickie sat down on the side of the girl’s bed and as her eyes fluttered open, looked deeply into them, and said, with all the force she could muster, ”It’s all right. The kids are safe. Trust me.”

The girl’s lips formed an “O” and her eyes widened. Still looking only at Astra, Vickie continued.

“All of you, I am sorry, I actually had things working out, and I stupidly didn’t tell you. Well, I told Sera. But I didn’t tell you, Johnny, because you have been as stubborn as a pig on ice about paying off these jerks, and I didn’t want you trying to interfere.”

Murdock made a little strangled sound. She carried on right over the top of him.

“I had a trade going with Grim. One half was an artifact, the other was a changeling body. Until we knew what Garvey had promised him, I had to find something of equal value—that was the artifact. I was trading that in return for him dropping Garvey’s contract. When I found out that what Garvey had offered him was a body, I sweetened the deal. The changeling body went to a binding contract. For the next thirty five years, he wouldn’t kill anyone under the age of seventeen.”

John growled something about not trusting criminals. Now Vickie turned just enough to look him in the eyes.

“If you had asked me, or any of the mages around here, we would have told you that there are certain rules that things like Grim have to follow. One of them is that they have to keep their word.” She took a deep breath. “I didn’t know exactly when I could get my hands on this stuff. I knew it would be no later than Friday. So I had a deal with him. If he got one or both of the twins, he would hold them, safe, until Friday when I could ransom them. Astra was never in any danger of being hurt, much less killed, if she went to him.”

“Dammit Vic--!” John began heatedly.

“You aren’t thinking anything I haven’t, all the way here,” she growled. “Shut up a second. I have something to tell Astra. And the rest of you, but mostly Astra.”

She cupped both her hands around the girl’s face. “The seven kids he has are safe, kiddo,” she said, firmly. “He left me a loophole open that I could exploit. When he first took on that form, he asked for revenge. Problem is, he didn’t specify whose revenge. As soon as I knew you’d been gotten out of there, I opened something up on him, and the spirit of everything he’s murdered that might want revenge on him was allowed to come through and home in on him. Right now, he’s the center of a swarm of very angry ghosts, and he has a lot more to worry about than even the kids he’s holding, much less finding a bus to run into a wall.”

“Why didn’t you do this before?” John demanded.

“Because it isn’t going to last for long, and I can only get away with it once,” she snapped back, looking over her shoulder. “I had one flash-bang, I wasn’t going to use it until the right moment!”

She looked back into Astra’s eyes. “You understand me, honey? The kids he had are safe. He won’t be looking for any more. He’s on the run, and I’ll be able to find the seven he’s got now. I have another guy over there I can pay off to get them out and back to their folks. And tomorrow I’ll buy Grim off, and he won’t touch any more kids at all for the next thirty-five years. It’s all right. It’s really all right. Understood?”

Astra nodded, dumbly. Then, as her eyes began to glisten with tears, Vickie let her go.

Then she noticed something else, something clutched in the girl’s hand. Had Grim planted something on her?

“What’s this?” she asked, touching Atrra’s closed fiist.

Astra let go of it, revealing that there was a cord wrapped around her wrist, and what she had been holding was an amulet dangling from it.

Gentle waves of calm came from it. “Where did this come from?” she asked.

“Sun Kai,” Astra gulped.

It was definitely Eastern…but not Chinese…


What the hell was Crimson Tao doing with a Tsoo amulet? Tsoo…she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all. No matter what it was putting out right now, it was Tsoo, and anything Tsoo was never good news for anyone who wasn’t Tsoo.

“Can I take it, honey?” she asked, and before Astra could say yes or no, untied the cord and slipped the thing off. Then she got up, backing hastily out of the room. She was not touchy-feely, and she didn’t think she could handle Astra bawling her eyes out.

Or worse….not.

John caught her elbow on the way out. “Vic—“ he said,urgently, “We’re gonna talk. Later.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “We are.”

About a lot of things.