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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.






Fantasy

Medieval


For whatever reason, fantasy and medieval Europe are so intertwined in the popular imagination that a story need only feel medieval sometimes to evoke the proper reactions to belong in the category.

by Tara Barnett
When the first soldier came to taste of Ana's wine, I asked Mama when a man would first taste mine. "Patience, my beautiful daughter," she told me. "Let the wine age, and it will become richer, and stronger than its oak cask." But the first soldier who tasted took my sister Ana away, although her wine was still young and sweet, perhaps because he liked the taste. It was many years still before a man came to taste of my wine. I had many long days to think, read, and become skilled for the man who would drink of me fully. Every day I seasoned that barrel, breathed in its heady aroma, and adjusted the heat of my father's cellar to best temper my powerful brew. It was my full-time obsession.
Published on Dec 13, 2010
by E. B. Brandon
Well met! In the following new employee rune book you will find everything you need to transition into your new role as a productive team-member of Grundar’s Ravaging Horde. Welcome to your new and glorious purpose! While Grundar alone is destined to rule, the bloodstone diadem heavy on his brow, Grundar relies on YOU to sunder his enemies and rain devastation upon the broken lands. The following tome will outline our chosen ways.
Published on Feb 17, 2021
by Priya Chand
Dragons are the most magical beings of all. Neither you nor the king consider what this means when you put a spear through the throat of the last dragon, and it chokes to death on its own hot fire and acid-tinged blood.
In the last and therefore most perfect universe, you walk through a dappled glade, hands soft except for the nub on your left forefinger where your pen rests. The trees shiver, once, and you walk faster despite the blister forming on the edge of your pinky toe. In the universe where you realized what you were doing after it was too late to stop, your charred body lies atop the bones of the country's best warriors, sizzling in the acid trickling out the dragon's side as she gasps her way to death. In his palace of crumbling stone edges, the king gnaws his already bleeding thumb and snaps at his magic mirror. "There cannot be only one Chosen One. Find me another. I command it." In the universe where you were bravest, your corpse is buried in an unmarked grave next to all the other graves of the chosen children who refused to fight. The dragon swoops over the town, watching for those who would invade her forest, unaware that death is gnawing her belly in the form of unrealized prophecy. In the last universe your rapid walk turns into a run and you curse your tardiness, seduced by one more chapter, one more book, in the great library among a thousand rustling readers. Here, everyone does as they wish, and here, it is--was--sufficient. In the universe where prophecies are stillborn, your mother is too afraid to tell her husband of your birth, at the height of the goat moon with no warning, the tail that dropped from your spine when the midwife clamped your cord. You grow up in the woods, semi-feral, and when you are thirteen you come across a strangeness, a scent you follow back to its sulfurous roots.
You stand over the dragon's body next to the king, spear steaming where it's stuck. "What are you waiting for?" he snarls, but you cannot hear him over the sound of your splintering consciousness, the blots in your vision where thousands of you have been dead for so long, the fading red wash as the dragon sears your skin, over and over and over. Seeking relief, you focus on the only place where the fire is inside your body-- In the last universe, your sideburns and the soles of your feet throb in time with your ragged breath, and still you run as the edges of this glade begin to uncurl, the smell of ash--of humans--rising.
What was the point of killing all the dragons? you wonder, dully, barely able after a lifetime of obedience to pull your thoughts into the shape of a question. The carcass is sprawled across the king's crops, and nothing will grow here ever again. He will take land from the peasants, already struggling on rocky soil, the magic of the kingdom all sucked towards the center. Towards you, your bones like steel and the skin that cannot be burned, courtesy of the king and his wizard. In the last universe, you-the-scholar reaches the center. You can't waste time but you have to gape: a mound of jewels, uniformly sized rubies scintillating in the light that makes it past the trees, a huge mound--and as your brain slots the shapes into their correct places you realize they are all one with the jagged spines at the top, the scaly head turning towards you.
Something burns on your cheek. You realize it's the dragon's acid, and panic freezes your body, sublimating when you realize it's a small hole in the spell, a hole the size of a salted tear, and the rest of your body is safe so long as you do not cry. The king watches you, first stiff then relaxed--fatigued--and says, "The spear should be safe now. Take it." You obey. Of course you obey, even though tiny holes burn both your cheeks, dripping towards your mouth.
The scholarly version of yourself bows deeply. "I needed to speak with you," you tell the dragon. Her head extends on its long neck past your face. "This was always going to happen." Her voice sounds exactly like the voice of a pleasant older woman, if tinged with foreboding. Her mouth doesn't move, just her nostrils, sniffing the air. "No. It's not fair," you say, wishing you'd paid more attention in oratory. (It's the universe that's closest to perfection, there are still gaps.) "Why?" "You'll, you'll"--, "Die? Every living thing dies." Although her reptilian features remain unmoved, her tone suggests a gentle smile. The smell of ash grows stronger.
In the universe where you are most persuasive, a tall woman whose skin has strange red undertones moves into your city room, away from the palace compound. You arrange a job for her at a nearby tavern, to learn what society demands from this form you've convinced her to wear. One day there's a barfight, and while these are ubiquitous, two of the participants have a blood feud, and the dragon-turned-woman has forgotten she no longer has scales, and catches one of their long knives in her gut.
In the last universe, you say, "I don't care." The dragon snorts. Her eyes close and she takes a long breath, smoke sidling out the corner of her mouth. "It's almost here, you know." Your knees shake. First you cared about the magic inside her skin, but facing her, she is a work of art. You don't want her to die, and soon you will realize you should want this even if she weren't magnificent. This universe, and the other universes, begin folding in on each other. You consider running, but this is the epicenter, and it's always been too late.
The wizard healed your minor wounds when you returned, but you can still feel the wind blowing through your teeth, skin thinning as the millions of corpses you are in millions of universes retreat towards yourself. You punch your bathroom mirror and savor your ringing ears. You seize the glass shards with bare fingers, but the spell is in your bones, writ over and over since the king took you in as the child of prophecy, handed over by parents you can't blame for foisting a hungry mouth on the one who takes half their income. Something shifts in your gut. It's a great unrolling, the universe's longest carpet, of memories you don't recall making: reading books, living in a world that has no conception of war, no unnatural deaths, where a dragon waits in a glade shrinking around her body, her immortality shredding at last. You can see it, and this you--the most empathetic, if you'd been allowed to notice--does not reach out to try and stop it. Even though the fragments of universes like shattering plates break inside your skull, and you remember dying over and over until you have to press your hand to your chest to make sure your heart is still beating, and still it pushes through your senses. Your last thought as you fade out is that you always thought you were chosen to kill.
In the only universe that always/now exists, you sit on your throne and squint at the carved wooden figures on the double doors of your hall, too enormous for the pallid light to reach. The figures are fantastical, dragons and magic and a society of endless harmony. The guards have brought forth a supplicant, but rulers never look down, for subjects must know their place. Words of the king--your acknowledged father, dead without legitimate offspring--etched by repetition into your bones. But there are other voices, the pieces of you from the places that once/never existed, scholar's knowledge and sneak's cunning and the bravery of the corpse. What the king did to you in the universes where he existed was wrong, every single time. He wronged many. Some are beyond amends, others are not. Before the supplicant finishes her message, you raise a hand and send your corps north, to dig wells and build roads among the rocks. You order the supplicant--a peasant, who once had too many mouths to feed--to rise. You lower your chin to look her in the eye and smile, gently.
Published on Feb 18, 2022
by Sean Cudeck
It was midday when the witchfinder arrived at the cottage of the woman who lived on the edge of the woods. As he and his men approached, walking up the short path that split off from the winding road to the village, they found her sitting at a spinning wheel outside on the grass, the warm sunlight falling in a pool around her. A few chickens pecked among the clover that grew in the shade of a great, gnarled tree, whose branches twined above the clearing where the cottage lay, and an old, gray ram drank calmly from the waters of a small stream that flowed burbling from the woods behind it.

The woman looked up from her spinning as the men approached, her foot pausing on the pedal of the wheel, and the worn device spun to a stop, the fibers of the thread growing still between her fingers. She wore a curious look on her face as she watched their approach. But she did not seem alarmed.
Published on May 6, 2022
by Evan Dicken
I'm not a bad woman, I just come from a long line of them. It's not unusual. Scratch the gilding from any royal family and you're bound to find a seething mess of rapists, traitors, and mass murderers. Your ancestors were the same--difference is, mine were better at it. But enough about me.
Published on Sep 6, 2016
by Frank Dutkiewicz
James wondered what kind of idiot he had become. Here he was, mere feet from the entrance to a dragon's lair, and not just any dragon's lair, the dragon of all dragon's lair. They didn't call Cirole "terrible" because of a pleasant disposition. "I changed my mind."
Published on Sep 12, 2012
by Shannon Fay
I was the one who told Rhiz about the Folx bush. "It flowers in the spring, little pink blossoms that sit on thick, knobby branches," I said, placing the seed in Rhiz's hand and folding her fingers over it. "When you try and trim it, it just grows back stronger. Tearing one out of the ground is like trying to rend a full-grown oak. It's hale and tough and beautiful, just like you."
Published on Aug 21, 2017
by Shannon Fay
The elf's name was Sakorin and she had never met a human before. She asked if I would walk with her a little while, and I agreed. Together we traveled away from the rocky coast and through the marshlands, bridging our two worlds with stories of our childhoods. We became lovers at the foot of a mountain, sharing smiles the next day as we climbed its peaks. We met other travelers along the way, some good, some bad, many of them much more attractive and interesting and daring than me. My heart would clench every time Sakorin met someone new. I was sure she would leave me once she realized that I wasn't anything special. She had only asked me to walk with her for a little while, after all.
Published on Aug 1, 2019
by Jessica Freely
The Warrior Beasts of Varn craft their armor from the hides of their defeated foes. When I first met Gralgash at the beginning of the Half Lands campaign he was already a veteran of fifty battles, his breastplate encrusted with the gemstone scales of Plath lizards, the razor-sharp plumage of vengeance hawks nodding from his helm. I was there the day he slew the Dragon King and I'll never forget the sight of him climbing the monster's back, the red rays of the Wasted Sun sparking off him, turning him into an ever-shifting kaleidoscope, a beacon of hope that could be seen for miles and miles. In the end, I had to look away or be blinded, so I missed the killing blow. But I helped him skin the wyrm, and I asked him if he would retire now that the enemy of the righteous was dead. "Never," he said, as he measured a length of adamantine skin against his inseam.
Published on Nov 2, 2017
by David Gianatasio
You squirm on the altar, hands bound behind your back, lashed to a golden column topped by the Great One's fierce, fanged features. When your God arrives, His crimson wings beat like thunder, shaking the temple to its core. You gasp, braced for teeth and talons to sever meat from bone. But the agony never comes. Instead, the Divine Being devours the high priests. Their blood spills like wine across the sanctuary floor. "Virgins are too rare for My taste," your Creator snorts, picking his fangs with an acolyte's femur.
Published on Apr 7, 2022
by Laura Anne Gilman
"My lady, I dislike this place." She smiled at me, not amused, and yet amused nonetheless, a tender smile no man had ever seen. "I know."
Published on Jul 16, 2012
by Laura Anne Gilman
"I was thinking it's maybe time we had a change of scenery. Maybe do things different around here." It was an idle comment, just the kind one might flick off between washing one ear and digging between his fore and third claws for a bit of sand somehow lodged there. But nothing Oliver ever did was without reason, however distant or obscured. The sailor paused in coiling the rope, feeling the oiled fiber slide under his calluses. "Captain's not going to like that kind of thinking."
Published on Apr 20, 2012
by David A. Gray
"You have slaughtered my entire species, except for me," said the ancient dragon, leaning its head on taloned forelegs, "and now you've come to finish your genocide, and twist the tale for your so-called histories." "'I am the last of my kind,' quoth the glittering emerald-scaled Dragon King," the bard said smoothly, from the edge of the little clearing in the nameless wood. " 'So we must do final battle, here in the legendary Misty Forest. Because bold striving mankind and cunning lizard can never share this land.'"
Published on Aug 7, 2020
by Jon Michael Hansen
O gather, youth of my master, and hear my tale. That's how these stories always start, as I recall from the bards. Yes, many a bard sang songs of me, for I was once the mightiest blade in the land. No, 'tis true! I look like a humble farming implement now, but I was forged into existence as the Silver Singing Sword, wrought by elfish magic for Sir Cymberleon, Knight of the Realm, and many--
Published on May 5, 2021
by C.L. Holland
After he brought the Emperor back to life, they cut off his hands. "Now you can never use your gift for anyone else," the Emperor's most loyal advisor said. Blinded by pain, Sora barely heard him. The physicians continued their work, spreading salves over the wounds that made it feel like they were on fire. He was barely conscious even before they tipped honey-sweetened laudanum down his throat.
Published on Apr 4, 2012
by Jessica Jo Horowitz
"Is it you?" The voice was as dusty and aged as the tower falling to ruin around them, but in it, the Hero could hear the barest sliver of emotion, packed up years ago and locked away where it could do no harm. Hope.
Published on Mar 18, 2020
by M.K. Hutchins
Silence is the canvas. That's what my sister always said, right before singing a broom to life to do the cleaning. When her baby cried, the broom always fell over. No more canvas, no more spell.
Published on Oct 5, 2011
by Raven Jakubowski
There was a saying among the oracles, when there were still oracles: Every vision is a choice. Through the window I can see the great capitol of Ethrehym burning in the valley. Warriors will be here soon, and whether they are ours or theirs, I no longer think it matters. I am the only remaining oracle; this is the choice I made almost sixty long years ago.
Published on Oct 28, 2014
by Tobias Backman
The farmgirl creeps deep into the cave, so far below ground she must've passed into the nether worlds long ago. She doesn't turn back even when she can no longer see her fingers in the darkness in front of her or the pitchfork they're clenching. She doesn't tremble even when her free hand, sliding along the cold, damp stones, passes through spider webs so wide their owners must be living off cows and deer. She only stops when the blind witch's cackle rises from the deep. The farmgirl doesn't cower, doesn't swing the pitchfork wildly and reveal herself. The cackle grows louder, but the farmgirl keeps still until movement disrupts the stale air in front of her and she is nearly choking on the witch's warm, rotten breath.
Published on Jan 19, 2021
by Andrew Kaye
The Masterís voice trickles from the speaking tube. "RenŠn," he says, his voice an urgent orange but matte with kindness, "please come downstairs." RenŠn doesnít want to leave behind his canvas and his paint. But heís a good servant. He comes when heís called. Master is waiting in the foyer in his hat and his coat and his comfortable boots. Somber colors, ubiquitous. Two parts bone char, one part umber. RenŠn smiles. Master is wearing cologne. RenŠn can see it hanging on his neck and chest in motes of pale blue and verdigris, the smell a wet blend of the two. "Iíve received word that my order is complete," Master says. He reaches into his pocket, removes the Special Glasses. "The couriers are detained this afternoon, so Iíd like you to come with me to pick it up. But please wear the spectacles," Master says. "Weíll be out among people, and I donít want you getting distracted by the colors." # RenŠn doesnít like the Special Glasses. RenŠn doesnít complain. The Glasses are heavy on his face, make his nose hurt and his ears itch. The Glasses have dark lenses. They bathe the world in shadow. RenŠn follows Masterís too-black boots through too-black streets. He tries not to look at the sky. Itís the sunny season: always brief, always beautiful. In a week the winds would come, the ash would return, the sky would grow heavy with gray and with brown. Sepia days and starless nights. He canít bear to see the sun in shadow. Masterís boots leave gray footprints on the paving stones. RenŠn mimics Masterís shuffle. He frowns. The walk is different. Master is different. RenŠn thinks he looks uncomfortable, even scaredópale and crumpled gray-green. RenŠn rarely sees Master when he is Among People. His face has changed in ways that even the Special Glasses canít conceal. Master usually has such a paintable face. The smile. The eyes. The glyph tattoos along his cheek: alchemistís marks, dark green-black like ornamental jade. A paintable face, yes, but one he is never allowed to paint. RenŠn does not want to paint it now. It looks too pale, a canvas smeared with turpentine. It scares him. He tries not to think about it. "Master...?Ē RenŠn asks, hating the soggy gray croak his voice becomes through the Glassesí shadow. "Where are we going?" "To the gunsmith," Master says, gray tinged with brown. RenŠn beams. This was an Important Errand. His hands begin to twitch. "Nearly there," Master adds. He gestures down the street toward a two-story building. Holes line the outside wall where the second story rests atop the first. RenŠn thinks he sees a faerie slouched in one of these holes, just above the door. Thereís something metallic in the faerieís hands: a tiny glamlock rifle. "This is a _faerie_ gunsmithís," RenŠn says. Thereís a sign above the door. He canít read it. Canít read anything. Forgot how. The Special Glasses stain the sign worse than age and ash. The blue is muddy, the white like a tobacco chewerís teeth. The Special Glasses fail to stain his excitement. "All gunsmiths are faeries," Master says. "Only faeries forge glamlocks." RenŠn grins. RenŠn likes faeries. Faeries make colors, practically perspire them. He can see the aura surrounding the gunsmith guard, though not the subtleties in color. Magic winks along the glamlock barrel like dull fireflies. RenŠnís ears itch. He rubs at them, furiously. Lets the Special Glasses slide down his nose as he follows Master inside. The room is bare: single desk, several chairs, all simple and unadorned. Even these are a delight. RenŠn gasps at the shades of sienna and umber and ochre. His eyes follow the patterns in the wood grain. A faerie sits cross-legged on the desktop, pen scratching out sums. Her skin is three parts beige and one part sinopia, her shoulders and clothing stippled carbon black. RenŠn can see the magic of her aura moving like heat around her entire body, a mirage of aquamarine and cerulean and a dozen subtle shades between. The faerie looks up from her paperwork with shiny black eyes. When she speaks, RenŠn sees the magic ripple. "Can I help you?" Master smiles. Itís not his usual smile. "SeŮorita Libťlula, correct?" The faeries wings vibrate, lifting her several inches above the table. Her shadow tints the wood burnt umber. Soot falls from her wings, specks of gray and black. She scowls. "I am. And you are...?" Master laughs pink and tangerine with nervousness. "Iím sorry, seŮorita. I forgot we havenít met outside of telegrams. My name is Esteban Soliente," he says. "My couriers are unavailable, so I came for this monthís order myself. Iíve brought the receipt, if that helps." The faerie ignores the yellowing paper. Whistles sharp and silver from behind her teeth. Several faeries lift off from behind the desk, fly to the back rooms like slow, sooty dragonflies. They donít use the human-sized door, but ferret into holes similar to those outside. RenŠn can feel heat from those holes, red and orange against his skin. Somewhere behind that wall, glamlocks are being forged in fire and magic. RenŠnís eyes wander. The wall. The floor. The ceiling. He gasps. Magic is accumulating in the rafters, probably had been for years. It sloshes and swirls like an upside-down ocean. Ultramarine becomes indigo, blends with purple ochre, became something else entirely. RenŠnís fingers move as if searching for brushes. He is unable to suppress a juvenile giggle. "Whatís wrong with him?" the faerie says. Master sighs. "He has prismatic blight, Iím afraid. Heís hyperaware of colors, even those humans canít normally see. But itís... degenerative. His mind... well, his mind isnít what it used to be, and isnít getting any better. RenŠn? Please, joven, put the spectacles back on." RenŠn speaks in a cream-colored mumble. "I need to paint it. I need to paint the ceiling like the magic does. Coat the canvas in sprays and wavesóflat brushes, stiff bristles, bit of water, fan between colors," he says, and his cream-colored mumble thins into an excited white. "I need to paint it, Master! _Please_!" "You can paint when we get _home_." Masterís voice is iron, oxidizes immediately. He sighs. "Patience, RenŠn. Iíll even buy you some new canvasses on the way back." RenŠn composes himself, slides the Special Glasses up his nose. He blushes, his shame as bright and pink as the shadowy lenses allowed. He had embarrassed Master. While on an Important Errand. The faeries return, a box carried among them. A familiar box in a familiar style. Wood like raw sienna, grain nearly golden. Unreadable label in weathered gamboge. "You order an awful lot of glamlock cartridges, SeŮor Soliente," the faerie says. She squints her eyes. "You must be one hell of a marksman." Master hesitates. "Yes. Well. I donít know if Iíd say that. I find glamlocks intriguingómagic-fueled firearms and all that. But Iím hardly a marksman. Hardly." He shrugs. "Practice makes perfect, yes?" "I heard you use the cartridges for experiments." "Really?" Masterís voice is again pink and tangerine. "And who told you that?" "Word gets around," the faerie says. "I like to know my clientele." RenŠn barely pays attention. He watches the ceiling, fighting the urge to tear the Special Glasses from his face. # The windows face sunset. The windows are open. Outside, walls and paving stones glow with the reds and oranges and purples of a melting sorbet. Inside, the carpets are sectioned of bright squares of gold and white. It would be dark soon. The colors would fade to gray, and the gray would slowly darken into black, like iron gall. RenŠn paints. RenŠn is comfortable, surrounded by paint and soon-to-be-paint. Vials of ground azurite and orpiment. Jars of murex shells and cochineal carapaces and madder roots. And Master had bought him canvas, beautiful canvas, smooth as snakeskin and white as underbellies. RenŠn lets the sunlight choose his colors. He streaks the underbelly white with pale brick and stained stucco and terracotta and the copper-red skin of the men in the street. He smiles. The colors dance. "RenŠn?" Masterís voice travels down the hallway, follows him through the door. "RenŠn, letís shut these windows, shall we?" He snuffs out the sunlight. Curtains drawn. The room goes twilight gray-purple. "My reds are cold," RenŠn says sadly, pawing the canvas, trying to push away the shadows as if theyíre cobwebs. "I was painting the light." "Iím sorry, jovencito, but there are other things to paint. We have work to do." Work. RenŠn doesnít mind work. Work means colors. He repositions his canvasses to face the far wall, a wall cleared of furniture and ornaments so that only the faint eggshell white of its surface shows. Master wheels over the barrier, braces it against the wall. From his bag he pulls a thin sheet of metal. Locks it into the barricade. The sight amuses RenŠn; it looks very much like a metal canvass on a heavy, wheeled easel. Master goes to the shelves, finds his Dangerous Box, the one RenŠn is not supposed to touch. Itís two parts burnt umber and one part beige, with delicate brass clasps. Master opens it, reveals an elegant glamlock pistol that glitters like mother-of-pearl. "Iíll be trying the electrum composite today," Master says, loading one of the new cartridges into the pistol. "Paint what you see." RenŠn nods. Readies his brushes. There were no orders RenŠn enjoyed more. Paint what you see. Master fires his glamlock. A white-hot crack, a blue comet. Anyone could see that. But RenŠn was Gifted. He saw all things and the color of all things. He saw the magic of the glamlock and the magic of its bullets. He saw the colors that flared across the thin metal sheet and around it and above it. He needed two canvasses just to paint it properly. The first canvas shows the parts of magic the metal absorbs. Reds riot across its surface in angular branches. Red veins. Red lightning. Half-a-dozen shades of vivid crimson and violent carmine. The first painting is filled with anger. The colors are hot with it. RenŠn can feel them steam. The second canvas is far more colorful. RenŠn spends more time on it, wants to get it right. Precise. These are the colors the metal repels, the bits of magic that smoke and crumble away. RenŠn paints curling shapes in cobalt blue and antimony yellow and three different types of cadmium pigment, dapples them with indigo, flecks the canvas with aureolin and raw sienna. RenŠn can see anger in this one, too. A different anger. One born from disappointment, from the pain of being cast aside. RenŠn is sweating when he finishes. He shows Master his paintings. Master frowns. Master is never pleased. "Another failure," he mutters. "They arenít... beautiful?" "Of course theyíre beautiful, RenŠn. But Iím not looking for beauty." He points to the first canvas. "If Iíve done my alchemy correctly, that should be blank. All of the magic, all of the colors, would be deflected." RenŠnís shoulders sag. Blank is not a color heís familiar with. Master sets the glamlock down, sits beside RenŠn. "Iíll get it right eventually," he says, the optimism clouded like the water in a jar of soiled brushes. "Eventually the secret to the Universal Barrier will be unlocked. Just think, RenŠn! Magic-proof armor!" RenŠn does not know why magic-proof armor is important or exciting. He tries to imagine what it would look like, paints a picture of it in his mind. Master scrutinizes the paintings once more. "Itís always the reds," he says. "The reds are always absorbed." "Red ochre and alizarin," RenŠn says automatically. "A touch of royal purple and bone char, too. Itís... a very _pretty_ failure, Master." Then: chaos. Windows shatter. Drapes part. Purple-hued light spills onto the floor, glitters off broken glass. A figure steps into the room. His boots crunch as he steps forward. Mother-of-pearl flashes in his hand. "SeŮor Soliente, of the Alchemistís Guild?" Masterís eyes widen. He scrambles for his glamlock. RenŠn hears the sharp, silver click. "Donít move, seŮor. You understand why Iím here?" "I havenít done anything wrong!" Master shouts in defiance. "You have no rightó" "I just do what Iím paid to do, seŮor. And Iíve been paid well. A lot of folks think your work is dangerous for business." He smirks down the barrel. "Find your Universal Barrier yet?" "...No." "Good. Thatíll make this easier, then." A white-hot crack. A blue comet. RenŠn watches the colors streak through the air. The glamlockís magic hits Master in the torso. It courses across his body like spilled ink. Masterís eyes bulge. His body stiffens, convulses. His chest bursts open. Crimson splashes out. Master crumples and falls, hits the floor with a single, short gasp of gray. RenŠn is stunned. RenŠn finds it hard to move. He lurches toward Master. Looks into his face. Itís relaxed. Pale, but relaxed. Almost like heís sleeping. "Just a job, joven, just a job." The man speaks, but RenŠn is not listening, the voice cloaked in so much shadow that it blends into the background. "You get that body taken care of, you hear?" RenŠn does not. He does not see the man smile and nod, does not hear the crunching of glass as the man turns to leave. The man does not have a paintable face. The curtains close. Envelop the light. Two parts purple ochre and three parts carbon black. There is red. Everywhere. Master is losing so much that RenŠn canít hold it in. He doesnít know what to do. He doesnít understand death. He doesnít understand medicine or prayer. Not anymore. Maybe not ever. The only thing he understands now is painting. With sticky fingers, RenŠn goes to his brushes. He paints what he sees. He paints his masterís death in sanguine and shadow. END
Published on Oct 9, 2012
by Anastasia Kharlamova
He got the throne. He was born two years earlier than me, it was natural. Even though he was born with a limp (some enemy wizard's curse gone awry on my mother), he was trained to wear the crown. Meanwhile, I was trained to be the spare. Meredith the additional. Meredith the always second-best. Meredith the "just in case something happens to Anatole": the nicest title my parents could give me.
Published on May 28, 2019
by Marissa Kristine Lingen
Elli had been on every circuit, in various costumes. Always a heel. She was never above choking, taking people's eyes out, anything. She'd do it for free outside the ring if you were patient. She'd brought down most of the biggest faces there'd ever been, although a few succumbed to early injury instead, or drugs. But she didn't mind sharing her victories with the drugs.
Published on Dec 10, 2020
by Marissa Lingen
Twelve was old enough, or should have been old enough, not to need a minder at every turn. But twelve was also the perfect age for shiny things, for putting your hand on what is there for no better reason than because you can, and they turned their backs on my cousin for (his mother swore it) no more than a moment, half a moment really, and now he had that cursed sword. Which was horrifying, disgusting, and a disgrace the likes of which our family would never live down if we could not get the curse off him before anyone found out.
Published on May 4, 2020
by Mari Ness
He makes a ritual of it, summoning the servants and the guards as he places a two-edged sword in the center of his bed before lifting her hand to his lips. "Until I return," he says, and she curtsies, saying nothing. He smiles, pulling down his helmet, not touching her, not caring that she does not reach for him, or even the helmet. They have done all that, he tells himself, the night before.
Published on Feb 22, 2018
by Mari Ness
In the end, they did not shut the princess up alone. It had been discussed. But a few of the advisors of the king's court had seen prisoners dragged from cells after years of speaking to no one but their guards, if that. Prisoners who had not seen the sun. The princess was disobedient, yes, but she could still be useful--perhaps. If she was not driven insane.
Published on Oct 15, 2018
by Mari Ness
They stole my name when I was quite small, too young to understand the loss. For a time, no one even noticed. Such is the way of childhood, where I could be called the baby, or the girl, or the child, or handed to an aunt or uncle who needed no names to know how to feed and scold me. I knew the others had names, and learned them as I learned the names of every tree and plant about the huts, and which were good for eating and which good for playing and which we might steal as toys, and the names of the moons and the stars. I drank words and tales with every breath, but never thought to take a word for myself.
Published on Apr 6, 2012
by Kat Otis
There was a footbridge on the road leading into the town, but its troll was small enough that Hans only had to sell a woodcarving memory to gain passage. Afterwards, he prodded at the blank space in his mind, like tonguing a missing tooth, even though he'd sold enough memories to know that it was gone forever. He reached into his pocket and felt the reassuring shape of his latest carving. After five decades of working with wood, surely he had memories to spare. And even if he didn't, the price was still worth it. Another chance to find his daughter, his Inger, was worth any price.
Published on May 29, 2014
by Kat Otis
The god gave his keys to my brother, but I knew it was a mistake. Keys are a woman's domain.
Published on Dec 9, 2015
by Anya Ow
"Old Mother," said the teashop's owner, "Why do you still hunt? Your bank is bent under your blade, and you grow thinner by the season. Have you no children to ease your days, no grandchildren?" The teashop owner was not a young man himself. Life on the edge of the Kunlun meant that his shop relied heavily on the kingsroad, the benches cramped close to the paved stone, the small thatched-roof shop forever heavy with the animal scent of tethered horses. Ryurin smiled broadly with her few remaining teeth, amused as the teashop owner averted his eyes when he sat beside her on the bench. Thirty years ago, Ryurin would have believed it to be flirting. Time had made her wiser to the growing indifference of the world. The shop was empty, and the teashop owner had little else to do but wait out the days till the warmth of summer.
Published on Sep 16, 2016
by Anya Ow
"The lemon tree is my favorite," confided the Bone Wyrm to Princess Meeka, though its great jaws did not move. Within the echo chamber of her mind, the Wyrmvoice boomed clarion-bright, and Meeka had to fight not to clap her hands over her ears. The closest yellow orb of three on this side of its serpentine muzzle turned to follow Meeka as she stepped politely over the tip of its ivory tail and under the gate it had made by lifting its coils. Within it, the Wyrmgarden sang to her with silver clappers.
Published on Mar 28, 2017
by L.L. Phelps
Mei Ling sat beside the living room window and listened as the firecrackers echoed across the city. They had been going off for days, and she was sure by now that the dragon was getting as cranky as she was from being woken up so often by the loud pops and bangs. She was sure it was only a matter of time before it took flight and she was not going to miss it this year like every year before. Mei looked down at her red dress and matching shoes and smiled. She wondered if the dragon could see how well she had dressed today and every day in the month long celebration. She was sure that if the dragon was awake, it would not miss her bright red clothing, the braids that her mother carefully plaited into her hair, and the bright oranges and festive candies that she gave to her friends in the streets.
Published on Jul 13, 2011
by Jennifer R. Povey
Princess Inga made her way out of the keep and across the grounds. "Hey!" she called in a horribly informal manner. The woman who answered was privileged and used to such from the Princess. Sara was Inga's milk sister, after all, the queen having lacked the strength to nurse her daughter while recovering from a difficult birth.
Published on Apr 28, 2020
by Cat Rambo
Marcus hadn't thought marriage would be like this after three months. He had expected to love Pippa, but he hadn't thought she would love him so much, that she would follow him from counter to till in his tiny shop where he sold souvenirs and curiosities: stuffed mermaids, filagree jars, and great shark jaws set with more teeth than a carved comb. Was it that he was all the treasure that Pippa had? Would her need diminish with time, as she felt more secure?
Published on Apr 19, 2011
by Kenneth Schneyer
Petros cowered, well hidden in the stinking alley. He could not, did not deserve to avert his gaze as three Watchers in the street wrenched a girl from the grasp of her weeping parents. Even then, her desperate father put a foot forward to stop them; but one burly Watcher drew his black-and-silver sword and raised it to the old man's chin, grinning as if he were about to enjoy a fine meal or a game of dice. The father backed away, burying his face in his woolen shirt. The girl couldn't have been more than fourteen. At best, she'd spend a half-moon as a plaything for some Noble or the Watch themselves, then be thrown back into the street barely alive--if alive, if not mutilated. At worst--Petros closed his eyes and swallowed, trying not to think about the King and his Royal Feasts, the roasts and stews carved from the flesh of children.
Published on Feb 10, 2012
by Rene Sears
Amuse-bouche: Take one remote coastal castle. Add sea-raiders. Drain the blood of one king. (Arrows, cut throats, or beheadings are all acceptable--ask your butcher.) Send one princess into hiding, garnished with a daring midnight escape. Reserve one queen for later.
Published on Feb 10, 2017
by John M Shade
This was a small thing. In the midst of empires and grand armies and armadas it was something you could have easily overlooked if you weren't careful.
Published on Oct 20, 2011
by Alex Shvartsman
Teo followed one of his men through the vast halls of the palace, past the defaced portraits of royals and the vacant pedestals from which vases and small trinkets had already been looted. Laughter and muffled screams could be heard from some of the rooms they passed; the fighting was over, and the soldiers were helping themselves to spoils of war. "She's in there." The man pointed at the wide doorway. He shifted from foot to foot impatiently, no doubt eager to join his comrades.
Published on Jul 5, 2016
by Marge Simon
Since her untimely birth in the Brothels of Lemorrah, she was mothered by many, daughter of none. The city spawned more children than the poor could afford. Boys were sent to work the streets; young girls to Lemorrah. She'd witnessed them be broken in for service. When it came her turn, she was the only one who didn't cry. Her name doesn't matter. She's barely seventeen but she looks much older. In the forests surrounding Lemorrah there is a glade that she visits when she is depressed. This time, she thinks of suicide, for she's obtained a knife.
Published on Aug 9, 2018
by Amber D. Sistla
Grikl paced in the clearing surrounded by bekel trees, their boughs overflowing with delicately waving blossoms that filled the sultry air with a sweet scent. She took care not to stop lest she sink into the mud. It was bekel bug season and she couldn't even seek the steadier ground near the roots of the trees. One bite from the bug would paralyze her so that it could burrow inside and lay its eggs. The thought of the danger nauseated her, but it was the perfect spot to wallow in her shame; no one would think to look for her in the groves. The Elders said true spirits rejoiced in the accomplishments of others, but she was sure they'd never had to live in the shadow of the Chosen One. Archery, hunting, running, singing, dancing, shouting... Ekkli's list of talents was unending and Grikl was always a distant second. Only beauty, that is my undisputed domain. The thought wormed in her mind like a bekel bug. Of what use was beauty? The boys cared little for such a transient, unskilled thing when they could bask in the glory of Ekkli's bright accomplishments.
Published on Dec 27, 2010
by Gary Smith
I am invisible to everyone around me. I am not a magician, a mystical wood elf, nor a dragon in guise. I am the man that empties the latrines. I have been the palace's emptier of latrines for over five years. At first I wasn't invisible. Other young men would sit near me in the dining hall. Palace maids would whisper and smile as I passed. That lasted until they figured out my occupation.
Published on Oct 6, 2018
by KELS
Talia was ten and two when she sheared her hair with a kitchen knife, bound her budding breasts with rags until her ribs ached, and stuffed a sock in the crotch of her father's borrowed breeches. She was the same age when her father beat her bloody with a switch and told her she would never hold a sword. "You're to hold a babe, not a blade." He hissed. Her skin cracked, peeled, and bled with every strike.
Published on Dec 29, 2020
by Eric James Stone
You tend to remember the face of a man you've sworn to kill. As Groshen hoisted a rundlet of wine into the wagon, he spotted the crimson-robed prophet strolling along the village's main road. Groshen had only met the prophet twice, but he recognized those copper-colored eyes divided by that bulging nose.
Published on Nov 8, 2011
by Eric James Stone
The Empress Uvay dismissed the physician with a trembling wave of her hand. What could he do except tell her she would soon join the late Emperor in the halls of Paradise? Terrified of being charged with regicide, he would not even give her a concoction to ease her passing. No matter--the poison needle hidden in the ring on her right middle finger would quickly end her life if the pain became too great.
Published on Feb 9, 2012
by Hayley Stone
One

You aren't told much, only that His Imperial Highness is cold and to grab a spare blanket from the nearby closet. They neglect to tell you the closet door is paneled identically to the rest of the wall, practically invisible. You search for several minutes before finally mustering the courage to ask an older servant for help.
Published on Aug 19, 2022
by Sean Vivier
Itzak paid very precise attention to Master Carver's instructions. He had apprenticed for the man long enough to know that his master demanded particular detail. For all Carver's love of anarchy, he still loved order and harmony within his own work. The apprentice knew all the ways he might fall short. He remembered all the ways he had fallen short in the past. For all he tended to correct and explain with a kind tone, Itzak had seen Master Carver's temper more than enough times that he'd rather avoid it. So he concentrated. And with each word Carver spoke, Itzak made it something tangible in his mind. Old Roman concrete, salvaged from ruins, for the supports. Walls made of two thin frames of limestone with bars of iron between to strengthen them. Itzak straightened his yarmulke and tugged his apron and adjusted his toolbelt all the while. If he couldn't make the plans perfect yet, he'd perfect things where he already had control. Still, something else bothered him. He could have sworn Carver had told him never to build with limestone. Itzak remembered when Carver had said that, years ago, when he had first begun his apprenticeship. Itzak had made sure to remember that, the better to make sure he never became a bad Mason. Actually, nothing about the design made sense. He decided to ask the question with tact, but even then he swallowed his fast heart. "To help me understand... what are we building?" "A debtors' prison," Master Carver said, nonchalant. Itzak nodded, while his whole world spun. Carver didn't believe in prisons. Now he wanted to make one?
"And you got the limestone from the quarry I asked?" Carver's voice outside the lodge woke Itzak. Right. He needed to be ready for work. He rose and he donned all his clothes and Masonic paraphernalia. "The very one," came Mother Temperance's voice, filled with glee. "They gave us a great discount. Between that and the salvaged Roman concrete, you'll save us quite a bit of money." That didn't sound like Master Carver at all. He wanted the best, no matter how costly in coin or effort. He wanted Riphean marble and adamant and orichalcum. Why did he settle for inferior materials? Itzak knew he'd never manage breakfast with his stomach twisted like that. He placed his yarmulke and stepped outside, where Mother Temperance already frowned at the sight of a Jew. "Ah," said Carver. He gave a much warmer reception. "Up bright and early. Ready to work?" "Yes, only...." Master and apprentice had built a working relationship over many years. Carver must know to expect to hear Itzak's concerns. Had listened many a time, if he had often dismissed them. So he risked it. "Why are we making a debtors' prison? I thought you, of all people, must abhor a debtors' prison." Carver flushed and glanced at his sponsor by his side. "Debts should be paid, should they not?" Itzak frowned. "Well, I mean... I always pay mine...." "Well, there you have it. So get back to work." Carver had never been so abrupt. Itzak felt his balls shrivel and try to retreat inside himself for protection. He decided to hurry away to work rather than face that.
Itzak felt heat on his face the whole time he worked on the prison. He didn't dare refuse, because he knew that might well spell the end of his career. Who wanted to work with someone who refused his part? Still and all, while he worked, he worried about a changed Master Carver. If he built debtors' prisons now, where else did he no longer draw the line? Carver alone had been willing to apprentice Itzak when the law said no Jews may learn a skilled trade. Few men besides Carver argued religious toleration. What if he changed his mind about anti-Semitism, too? What if he then renounced his distaste for violence as a first resort? How far did the changes go? He didn't speak a word of his fears. Not now. When Carver treated the limestone with lemon juice and vinegar and salt, he didn't ask. He and Carver worked, and the journeymen and laborers worked, as the debtors' prison rose floor by floor, backed by the mountains of Montsalvatch. Until Mother Temperance brought the debtors to their new home.
"Hey, Itzak." Carver shook him awake, and Itzak crawled back in the bed, certain the new man had come to kill him. "Hey," Carver whispered. "Sorry I had to hide my plans from you. I know how upset you can get. But I want to show you something. Come outside." This seemed important. So Itzak only took time for his yarmulke before he rose from the bed and followed Carver, wary, out the lodge door. A heavy rain fell, but Itzak paid it no mind. He saw it score the limestone walls of the debtors' prison before them, already quarried from inferior quality stone and abraded by Carver's caustic treatments. Pockmarks formed under the torrent of water, until the lack of cohesion collapsed the remainder of the limestone. The thin stone fell like scales and washed away to nothing, so that the walls vanished. Only the Roman concrete stood intact. That and the iron lattices, now so much like ladders. "A loan is a risk," Carver said. "You should pay your debts if you can, sure. But if someone can't... if you face the downside of the risk... destroying someone's life is not the answer. Refuse to lend to them again. Stain their reputation. Shun them. Blackball them. But don't lock them away." Already, debtors awoke to descend the ad hoc ladders and make their way to freedom. They'd done this on purpose. Just this once, for a little while, Itzak felt his fear wash away like the broken walls. Carver laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "This," he said, with a passion, "this is why we built a debtors' prison." Trickery to defy authority. Now that's the Master Carver that Itzak knew.
Published on Mar 27, 2022
by Sean Vivier
The tyrant's statue is still falling. It has such a long way to go. There are miles from the uppermost clouds of the gas giant to its core. It will topple for quite a while.

It felt almost as long as the struggle to remove the tyrant from power. We had had to hide low in the gravity well, with ballast sacs all but empty, where the pressure threatened the integrity of our membranes. I had watched friends die in merest hiding. I had watched friends die in battle. I had even seen friends kill each other by mistake. I had killed too many child soldiers to count. I had lost sleep and I had starved and I had bled ballast fumes. I'd bear the scars on my body and my mind as long as I lived.
Published on May 18, 2022
by Calie Voorhis
A feast loomed on the sagging oak table, but Manda's mind was on her impending doom. Her mouth watered at the rising steam off the verdaki carcass, the aroma of fresh-baked pila fluff. Jewels of fresh kharma root beckoned, swift-melting mousses tempted, her childhood favorite--vanis-spice cardamom pudding beckoned. "Just one bite," the morsels said. A phalanx of guards surrounded the table, pressing her forward into the chair. "Eat," the inquisitor, now in his rich burgundy judge's and jury's garb, said. He flipped his cowl back, letting the velvet stream down his neck, like chocolate sauce.
Published on Jan 1, 2021
by Debs Walker
Eventually the stranger reached her. ďHello and welcome. Iím Ezra.Ē ďI know.Ē The girlís voice was sullen. She was performing an unwanted duty. ďWhat do you have for me today?Ē asked Ezra, pointing to the leather bag slung over the girlís chest. ďGoatís cheese, bread, dried fruit. The same things that Danelly always brought you.Ē ďAnd you wanted to bring them to me today?Ē ďDanelly made me do it. She wants to talk to Gordon. She says she has better things to do than. . .Ē ďThan visit an old hermit?Ē
Published on Sep 7, 2010