Fiction Friday: The Huntsmen Chronicle Anthology

Changeling: The Lost

Here’s a look at Checkmate, a story by Marianne Pease from the Huntsmen Chronicle Anthology for Changeling: The Lost 2nd Edition.

“Well, this is quite nice. Feeling nostalgic for your golden age?” the man asked, picking up one of the pawns from the chess set on the table and twirling it between his fingers.

The little cafe was built into the bottom of an old tenement building, sunlight pouring down on the dusty terrace; soft shadows and the murmur of voices from within making it feel almost as if it were real instead of a construct of the dream. Rashid poured a cup of coffee for himself and slowly looked up at the Huntsman across from him. “The warmth of memory is a respite. It’s been a long time since I last defeated you. It will be a pleasure to do so one more time.”

The Huntsman laughed, sharp canine teeth gleaming when he opened his mouth. “Fleeing halfway around your world was an unexpected move on your part.” He replaced the pawn and moved it forward across the board. When he let go, it was no longer a worn wooden piece but a crystalline blue figure of a young woman. “White to 4e. The game’s already begun again and I will not lose this time.”

“How many times have I defeated you?” Rashid mused, studying the Huntsman’s opening move. “Three times now?”

“Twice. The first time was your mentor’s victory, not yours. I would have had you without his interference. Just as I would have taken you long ago if you hadn’t ?ed. Here you are, though, buried in this frozen waste of a country. Your freehold is dying, a cobbled together mishmash of stories held together by the strength of one woman. How long will it take for the freehold to fall to petty squabbling? How long will the Ruby Court accept the situation without trying to fix it?”

The old man moved forward a pawn to c5. He frowned when its appearance shifted, becoming a black ogre with a crack along the base. “Third time is the charm then.”

“Yes. It is.”

* * *

Blue Sarah sighed in happy relief when the doors of the library closed behind her and the blast of warmth from the heater began to thaw out her fingers, turning them bright ruby red. She dumped the stack of books she was returning onto the desk and headed towards the computer room at the back as usual. It didn’t take long for her to become lost in the Facebook updates and Instagram pictures of her mortal family. She barely paid attention to the footsteps behind her until someone leaned over to look at her screen. She whirled, about to tell him to shove off, and came face to face with the Huntsman’s canine grin. Sarah shrieked and lashed out. She managed to score a line of scratches across the Huntsman’s face before tumbling gracelessly out of her chair and darting to the door in a sheer panic. She looked back as she reached the front desk and didn’t see him coming yet but didn’t slow as she hurtled out into the snow. For one irrational moment, the shock of the freezing cold was almost enough to send her back into the library for the coat she’d left in the computer room.

It was only a kilometer and a half to the Jade Court’s Gerrard Street safehouse, but Sarah didn’t make it. The Huntsman pulled his car over a few yards in front of her on the bridge over the Don River and rolled down the window. “You’ve two choices, girl. Stop and speak with me, or jump off this bridge. It’s not high enough to kill you but you will be injured and I promise that I will be there before any help arrives for you. Then we will have our talk and it will go less well for you.”

She stopped, trying to catch her breath and shivering as the cold air burned through her lungs. “What do you want,” she spat back. The Huntsman’s smile wasn’t comforting, and her stomach twisted into knots. She could tell she was falling into whatever plan he had and she had no idea how to avoid it.

“It’s simple, really.” He leaned out of the car and threw a thumb drive that landed in the snow at her feet. “Plug this into one of the computers at your little freehold’s library and leave it there.”

Sarah blinked in surprise at so simple a request. “That’s… it?”

“That’s it. Of course, if you don’t do it I can always start visiting everyone on that Facebook page you so carelessly left open. I’m not here for you, blue girl, and I would be very aggravated if you forced me to give you any more of my time. Do you understand?”

She paled and quickly picked up the thumb drive, stuffing it into her pocket. “Y-yes.”

“Good. Now, you forgot this. You should be more careful, you could catch a cold.” He held her coat out the window to her. After a moment without her moving close enough to take it, he dropped it on the ground and drove away. Sarah waited until his car was out of sight then gave the coat a wide berth and continued to run.

* * *

The freehold’s library sat hidden above a gym in North York, only a few blocks from the subway. It took Sarah a few hours to get there with TTC running late again. It gave her time to think, and when she slipped into the library later that evening Sarah felt confdent again. She gave the pair of well-armed ogres lurking in the entry playing cards a quick nod and went straight back to the computers.

She downloaded a couple of programs to protect the computer against any viruses or spyware that could be on the USB, then disconnected the computer from the network. Sarah winced when she actually plugged it in but nothing appeared immediately out of order. She ran the virus scanner multiple times but it didn’t detect any problems. Finally, Sarah began digging into the files and the sick feeling in her stomach quickly returned. Many of the files were copies of documents in Arabic: letters and emails that she couldn’t read, but there was also a dozen extreme-range surveillance photos taken from rooftops all showing members of the Ruby Court watching members of the Jade and Ivory Courts. She recognized a few of the locations as Jade safehouses too, certainly not anywhere the Ruby Court or a Huntsman should know about.

“Liu!” she called out to one of the ogres on guard. “We’ve got a little problem.”

The guard grumbled and left the card game. “What is it?” He frowned as Sarah pointed to the first photo in the batch and then leaned in closer over her shoulder. “Where did you get this?”

Sarah shifted uneasily. “I found it. Outside on the ground.” It was technically the truth, and Sarah didn’t want to admit a Huntsman was involved now that she’d seen what was in the pictures. “If these are real it doesn’t matter what the source is, does it?”

Liu clicked through several and his red skin paled when he saw himself in one of the pictures. “Shit. Stay put. Don’t touch anything. I’m calling the Huangdi. Ivory and Silver will want to know about this, which means Scheherazade will be too.” The ogre walked back towards the door, pulling out his cell phone. “Boss, I need to talk to you. Yeah, in person. There’s a problem.”

Find out what happens next in the Huntsmen Chronicle Anthology, available now in advance PDF from DriveThruFiction.

There’s also 12 days left in our Kickstarter for Changeling: The Lost 2nd Edition! We hit our goal and have hit lots of great stretch goals, adding lots of great content for future Changeling supplements. Join in while you can!

  3 comments for “Fiction Friday: The Huntsmen Chronicle Anthology

  1. Conor
    December 4, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Loving this anthology, a great mix of stories. Is there any plans to release these in mobi or epub as well as pdf? Thanks.

    • Ian A. A. Watson
      December 4, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      We usually do other ebook formats when the book’s finalized for print.

  2. Ryan Spinney
    December 5, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Great story.

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