Born of the Elements - Laura Callender
Soren looked up at his mother with the wide eyes of innocence, refusing to go to sleep until he had a story. His tummy let out a rumble, but his smile masked the hunger they both felt.
"Tell me about the Elements," he said, pleading almost. His mother looked at him, sighing; she wasn't going to get an early night. She knew that if she had no food to offer at least she would feed his dreams.
"Alright," she said. "A great while ago, the world was full of wonder. The ocean and the land stood divided under the breath of the harsh winds and fires that raged above." She paused, wondering if her son was too young for the old tales.
Soren soaked in every word, pushing his mother to tell him more.
“The elements divided, starting a war that ravaged the earth until the birth of Irvina, the child of the four. She was an incidental, born despite all four elements trying to claim her. The fire licked her skin, as the wind blew back the severity of its touch. Irvina was dragged away from her birth mother, across the crippled land towards the sea. Baby Irvina plopped into the water, her life was only moments from being consumed. It has been said that salty liquid travelled over her tongue, threatening to squeeze out every last drop of air within. Water was winning. She would claim Irvina--or so it was thought."
Soren lay back, stretching his feet under the blanket. He carved out a comfortable position as he listened with interest. “Go on Mother, more, more.”
“The punishing death baby Irvina endured before her final fall, left scars from all four elements. It is said that when baby Irvina’s spirit, which was left to roam the sea, finally matures, she will rise like a God, to bring peace to our land.”
Slayer - Kevin Grover
Training with Cleaver was real hard, but I reckoned it would be worth it. It was months until he let me hold my first sword. I was unable to hide my smile. By now I must’ve had my fourteenth birthday, but who was really counting? Instead of years, Cleaver measured muscle size, speed and strength. The old man was a gruff sort, to the point he seemed unloving and cold. But I caught the look of pride in his eyes when I made unexpected progress and that was enough for me. Way I sees it, he avoided actually feeling stuff and I learnt to do the same.
“Have you ever loved someone?” I asked Cleaver as my arm shook with the weight of the sword. The challenge for today was to hold the sword for as long as I could and after a while, I was becoming bored, desperately wanting to slice it through the air.
Cleaver sat on a tree stump, his eyes fixed on me, ready to punish if my sword lowered. “Aye.”
I stared at him. “Who did you love?”
Cleaver took a deep breath. “The only thing you need to love now is your sword. Keep it that way and you’ll never break, never waiver and always win.”
The Night Shift - A J Millen
A shriek rang out from the upstairs bedroom, interrupting the sullen squabble being fought out below.
“Daddy! The monster! It here’s again. Make it go…” the words faded away into a muffled sobbing.
James got up abruptly, knocking his chair backwards as he did. The tear-streaked woman opposite him rolled her eyes.
“You spoil that child,” she spat. “How is she ever going to learn to stop being afraid of the dark if you go running at every whimper?”
“Come on, Holly. She’s just a little girl. Weren’t you ever scared of something you thought was hiding in your bed? I’ll just go and show her there’s nothing to worry about.”
“It’s about time she grew out of it,” replied his wife of nine years. “It’s not the imaginary monsters she needs to be afraid of.”
just six, for Christ’s sake.” James shook his head in disbelief. “When did you
become such a cold bitch?”
“Round about the same time you lost everything we’d ever worked for, and didn’t have the balls to tell me about it.”
Holly took an angry drag on her cigarette, the red glow nibbling away at the butt clasped between shaking fingers, and looked away. James shoved past her, into the hallway and mounted the stairs.
The End of Magic - Jason Pere
One by one each of her children bid their mother goodbye and started on the trail to Myth. Many tears and embraces were shared as a family was irrevocably torn asunder. When the last of Magic’s children had disappeared out of sight she began to use the last of her power to close the path bridging the two worlds. Before she concluded the act she caressed her belly with a maternal hand.
“I am so sorry for
the two of you,” Magic said to the unborn twins she carried in her womb. “It is
so cruel that you shall forever be separated from your brothers and sisters.
Even crueler that I must abandon you as you are brought fourth into this world.
I wish I could be her with you but it shall take everything I have left to
ensure the continuation of your siblings on the other side. It will fall to you
both to guide and watch over the humans in this world,” Magic continued as the
stone archway to Myth vanished after a wave of her arms. Once the passage had
been erased Magic began to fade into vapor. “The last thing I can do for you,
my children, is give you your names. All will know you as Good and Evil,” Magic
said to her last two children as they were birthed into the human world.
Unicorn Music - AE Steve
Eric nodded, showing his appreciation for whatever universal oddity had caused this and whispered, “Perfect,” bobbing his head, trying to remember the lyrics, and letting his unease fade.
He was hearing his dad singing on stage at Lemon’s Bar in Council Bluffs, IA with his mom standing next to him, slapping the tambourine on her hip. He smelled the stale smoke and the spilled beer. He tasted the peanuts and felt their shells break below his Converse. He heard the raucous laughter and felt at home. He thought about his childhood, his parents’ friends who would come over to their house behind the bar and jam. This was the kind of life he loved. This was the kind of life he missed. He was smiling a real, true smile, the kind of smile Hannah had fallen in love with 15 years earlier at Lemon’s Bar, when a unicorn trotted out of the woods to the west and paused in the middle of the highway, about 70 yards ahead of their van.
It gave off a white light that burned before the sky’s purple, red, orange, and blue. Eric slammed the breaks, crying out. The unicorn shot off eastward toward a patch of trees that couldn’t quite be called a forest. Hannah and the twins woke with a collective start.
“Dear God,” Eric muttered. He didn’t notice his wife’s slender fingers reach for him. He didn’t feel her gentle touch on his shoulder.
He didn’t hear her curious voice ask, “What’s wrong?”
Aomedus Fell - Kathrin Hutson
Aomedus, goddess of independent thought and strength. She was only a replacement deity, having been created just a handful of centuries before. The Olympian gods had returned to their Mount long ago, when the fall of Greece had become an imminent tragedy. And in turn, they had created a volley of tiny entities to take over until the time came to gift themselves to the open world once more. Aomedus herself had been formed from the right hand of Athena, to preside over a seemingly small portion of the gods’ responsibilities. But that did not mean that she had been inactive and unimportant. She had in fact been the cause of all the strength and wit of men who had fought in countless wars over the centuries. That was where they needed her the most—there and in the strength of a man’s heart.
Thinking of these things, as she always did, she reached out her slender, ivory-pale fingers to the sky around her, and through the clouds shot a flashing streak of swiftness. It stopped abruptly as she closed her fingers around it, snatching it out of the air with skill and indifference. Nothing surprised her here—she knew everything that had and ever would happen in the land of the gods. And she had everything she wanted, which bored her to no end.
Wayward's Beacon - E.R. Smo
“You could have saved her, right? You should have done more research, looked at more options, more hospitals!” His knuckles turned white, teeth bared at himself. “To hell with money, maybe if you tried harder she’d still be alive! She’d still be here!” His vision became blurred by hot tears.
He’d done those things he yelled about, lost many hours of sleep searching for the smallest bit of hope to save his wife. After the fact, it never seems like enough. His misguided rage manifested around him. Lightning cracked across the sky, thunder roared, a torrential downpour soaked him in seconds. The harsh storm became more violent the more his anger grew, and the louder he yelled. Raw emotion held in for a month let lose all at once. With nothing else around, he continuously punched the sand, needing a way to expel the excess energy born of his rage.
Jaune hated himself, and at the same time, hated himself for hating himself. Somewhere deep in his mind, he knew he’d done all he could, yet there always remained doubt, and it consumed him. “Why did she have to go? Why her? Why not anybody else? Why not me?” He yelled as loud as he could, eyes clenched shut, body tensing and trembling, crying harder than he ever had before. “Why not that drunken idiot who crashed into her? He deserved to die. He should have died horribly in her place!”
Emeline's Tree - Liz Butcher
Opening the browser on her phone, she searched under her mother’s maiden name – Abagail Thomson. Scrolling through the hits, her frustration increased as not one related to her mother. With a huff, she tried changing the search to Corban. Emeline sank back into her chair, her brow furrowed in confusion as she stared at the only related hit – a wedding announcement.
Emeline sighed. She’d never known much about her mother, but she’d counted on the little that she did know. What if none of it was true?
A rustle in the tree line at the edge of her yard distracted her and she squinted in the darkness. A strange movement caught her eyes between the tree trunks, a flash of something pale. Emeline leaned forward as her breath caught in her chest. A cool shiver ran down her spine as a pale hand crept around the side of a trunk.
As the hand was followed by an arm, she found herself torn between wanting to move closer, and wanting to run inside and lock the doors. Instead, she remained frozen in fear, the only sound was her heart pounding in her chest. As she watched, transfixed, the young woman appeared. Despite the darkness, Emeline could see her as clearly as if it were daylight. It was as though a light shone from within her, radiating outwards like a beacon in the night, drawing her in.
Honor - Jennifer Della'Zanna
Eight years ago today had been glorious. Lyra became a woman that day. The memory of wedding Romano came close to prying loose the armor that guarded a stone-cold heart—an armor even harder than that on her warrior’s body. She unbuckled boots and greaves, feeling almost free as she waded into the warm water and allowed her mind to wander as she did only on this day every year. Any more would have driven her insane.
Perhaps she should be happy things worked out this way. Her body was hard, muscular. She’d discovered things about herself in these past years she never would have if she’d been allowed to pursue her life as a cottager’s wife and mother to the horde of children they both wanted. Now a master at sword and bow, unbeaten by man or woman at the academy for three years, she enjoyed her work teaching swordsmanship to the newly Chosen. But every year she remembered. Every year she renewed her pledge. She never felt any less regret for the woman she could have been—even in light of the decorated knight she’d become. She promised to defend this land from its enemies. Now only Final Confirmation stood between her and her fate.
Nobody ever knew when Final Confirmation would come. There would be a sign. Her Chosen sign had come on this very beach that day. A knight, all in black and riding a black horse, had appeared at the edge of the trees.
Briar Rose - Amanda Linsmeier
When I stepped silently around the tree his body came into view.
Lowering my weapon in disappointment I sighed. I had hoped for a stag, I’d thought I smelled a stag. My people would’ve been glad for the meat—I hadn’t caught more than a couple hares in days. If it had been a stag, I would have killed it quickly, thanked the animal for its sacrifice, and taken a bite of the heart. It was the way of the hunter, though I always had to work myself up a little to do it. I didn’t like to admit that weakness even to myself.
I could have shot this man, just on principle. He was trespassing on our land. But he was too easy a target. I knelt, soaking my knees with his blood, and felt for a pulse in his neck. It was strong, surprisingly.
Nudging him none to gently, I frowned. “Wake up. You’re alive.”
He grimaced but didn’t open his eyes until I slapped him. He jerked his head with a growl. “Stop.”
“Are you stupid?” I said, staring into his dark eyes. “Why are you just lying here, waiting to be eaten?”
“You’ll be more injured if you don’t get your arse off the ground and find shelter.”
“Who are you? Why do you care?”
“I’m Rose. And, I don’t.” I got up, and began to walk away.
I looked back and sighed in disgust. “Why should I?”
“Because,” he said, “I need you.”
Grenadine's Charm - W.S. Moye
She had made it a point to see him, and it was the highlight of any moon when it happened. Last time, she ordered a tome, Magicks and Relics of the Ancient World, and was looking forward to reading it during her nights by the lamplight.
The next time through, Ebbo came up the path, whistling like he always did, and he had her book in hand and ready for her to use. She'd first realized how she felt about Ebbo then...Blushing, she feigned excitement for the book. He worried his stovepipe hat with his hands and displayed a broad smile, like usual.
"Ah, that one wasn't an easy find, but I have an archivist friend who specializes in Ancient tomes," he said, "I had to trade out an aragonite fire crystal and a yew wand for it, but it was easy enough."
"Oh goodness!" She hugged the book across her chest and looked him in the eye. "I didn't realize it would be so much! Please, let me give you some extra for your troubles...it’s the least I could do.” She reached into a satchel she wore at her hip, and pulled out a handful of coin to count.
Ebbo put a hand up, and simply smiled his usual dashing smile.
"Oh it wasn't any trouble at all for you--" he caught himself, "--a customer like you. Please consider it a sign of our friendship."
Daphne the Girl in the Armor - Amanda Luzzader
It swished through the air, and at first Alessandro thought he had missed. But then the girl sat up and lifted her visor. Sweat beaded her forehead and her dark hair was matted against her skin. Her eyes were moist, and although Alessandro couldn't see what color they were, he was certain they were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.
"I'm Alessandro," he said.
"I'm Daphne," she replied, and then she slapped the visor shut and resumed the fight.
All day long she fought. Sometimes she did well, making great strides across the meadow as her sword slashed through the air, and during these times Alessandro and Mackamae would run behind her, cheering her on. Other times the invisible foe would force her to the ground and she'd struggle even to raise her shield. During these times, Alessandro would stand in front of her, hoping to protect her from whatever it was she feared. Mackamae would kick wildly, but the enemy they fought was apparently personal to Daphne, because she alone could fight it.
Which Shoes - CL Steele
Locasta’s swallowed hard and forced a poker face. A glaze overcame her eyes.
Why, why doesn’t she want to remember? Glinda thought.
“I remember that I came here for a great dress. Something sexy and elegant,” Locasta said, opening the door and allowing Glinda into the shop.
If the window was magical, the interior of the shop was bewitching. A grand spiral staircase cascaded through the middle of the shop. Glass catwalks flowed from either side of the second-story landing and emanated to various areas of the shop. The second story had no floor except the glass catwalks, and the dresses above were visible from the first floor. Occasionally blue slivers of sky could be glimpsed between the attire from the above glass roof. The tuxes seemed to know to hide within the walls, while the dresses danced and greeted us with a curtsey. One sparkly sexy number simply shimmied a welcome. Locasta startled as the disc she stood on raised out of the floor. Grabbing the rising railing, she was whooshed out and into the dresses.
Behind her, Glinda called out, “Fill in the information on the panel. Select black for color and enter your size.”
Locasta did so. Dresses flew up glass cylinder tubes while black dresses in a size six rushed into place from other cylinders and began to twirl and dance. Each greeted her, then pirouetted from view. Locasta laughed with true delight.
“This is wonderful,” Locasta announced with youthful glee.
The Vigil - Phoebe Darqueling
If you only looked at their clothes, the people standing around his corpse would appear to be mourners. Then your gaze would stray to the hunger in their eyes, revealing a far more sinister intent. They dare not push or scrape at each other in its presence, as if the magic would punish them for impatience, but they could not help but lean in ever so slightly to see if the family legend was true.
They had been careful to respect the other parts of the story. They’d lit the incense, even though it made the air in the darkened room almost unbreathable. Perhaps this part of the ritual was to make their eyes sting, so the dying man might believe they were crying over his death rather than praying for an end to the interminable wait.
Even as the old man had lain insensate in the great canopy bed, no one dared to remove it from his body. They knew that as long as he still had breath, it would be impossible. That hadn’t kept them from approaching his deathbed and placing a kiss on the black stone. As their lips brushed the ring, somehow warm despite the clamminess of the wearer, they whispered entreaties.
I am worthy.
Now the vigil was over, and their fates would be sealed within a few heartbeats. Everything hung on that thin band of silver and what it would do next. With its wearer still, the ring was free to roam.
The Fairy Door - Kelly Matsuura
“Hey, what’s that over there?” Rayyan asked, nudging Dhia’s waist. “It’s glowing inside.”
“Inside what?” It took Dhia a second to find what he meant, but then she saw it. A large banyan tree, a little further behind where the mouse deer was feeding, was glowing a soft green light inside it’s hollow trunk. Dhia had never seen anything like it in the real world, only in her picture books. “It’s some kind of magic!” she squealed, her voice startling the mouse deer who leaped over the fallen long and disappeared again.
“It’s not magic, silly. It could be glowworms or tree fungus or something cool like that.” Rayyan started walking towards the glimmering tree. There was no clear pathway so he had to step over the various low growing plants and clumps of grass. Dhia followed more cautiously behind.
Rayyan reached the tree first and looked back at Dhia. “I think I can fit inside.”
“Hmm, maybe you shouldn’t do that…” Dhia warned, but Rayyan had already bent forward to stick his head inside the hollow space.
“Rayyan?” she called, still a few steps away.
Rayyan didn’t reply, and then his whole body suddenly vanished into the glowing space, as if he had been sucked in by an unseen force.
Sidewinder - Mary Lucille Hays
Sidewinder - Mary Lucille Hays
The thundering engulfed her and she became part of the thundering. Running like a crazed thing, with no hope of escape, she was frightened as never before. A massive brown shape passed her on her left. From some small corner of her awareness on the edge of her fury and fear she noted horns curving inward. Then. Two more overtook her and she veered to the right, but felt something brush and bump lightly against her flank as it passed, steering her back straight ahead. Suddenly on all sides the world became dust and rumble and horn and pounding hoof, and the Buffalo Child was swept along with the current. She became part of the rushing river and lost all sense of her four legs and her separateness. Her terror gradually gave way to exhilaration, for though her speed could not match that of the passing creatures, and she knew instinctively that to stumble or hesitate would mean her doom, the current continued to part to allow her a running space, and she felt the pulsing thunderous rhythm match the song of her own blood.
She did not know how long she ran, but as she finally
became aware of her own labored breathing, she noticed a thinning of the herd
around her. And just as she realized that she was, indeed, falling behind, she
stumbled, and fell heavily to the ground.
Orion and the Dream-Eater - Heather Holmes
Orion and the Dream-Eater - Heather Holmes
Dedication: "For Dustin, who believed in my dreams even when I did not"
The pool was a perfect mirror. Then the reflection changed. Instead of the Dreamscape, the twin moons of the Nite sky hung overhead, and the overlapping rooftops of the Spinning City became treetops.
“I see you've discovered the Reflecting Pool. Always a favorite. It shows you a glimpse of your future, but only a random moment. What do you see?” asked Saiph.
“I'm standing in the woods, holding some kind of plant.”
“How mysterious!” Saiph smiled broadly.
“What do you see, Paw?” asked Orion.
“Nothing.” Rigel shook his head after a moment, looking to Saiph. “Damn thing must be broken.”
“Nonsense. You're as batty as your wife!”
Saiph closed the gap between them with a single step, flashing towards them in a blur. Looming over Rigel and Orion, the Oracle peered into the pool at their reflections. Orion looked up at Saiph, whose face had fallen as his eyes darted back and forth over the water.
“It's just a parlor trick.” Rigel faced Saiph. “I'm sure you can fix it.”
“It isn't broken.” Saiph’s gaze went distant, as if he were looking through Rigel.
“My friend,” he gasped, ashen. Saiph put a hand on Rigel’s shoulder. “There's nothing there.” [nothing there should be italicized]
“I must be in your blind spot.” Rigel cracked a smile.
“Nonsense. My only blind spot is--”
The Oracle was interrupted by a metallic moan, followed shortly by a deafening crash and a roar of screams. In the distance, one of the spinning spires fell in a cacophony of breaking glass and crumbling rock.
Eye of the Keidan - Michael R. Baker
On and on his memories twisted, until nothing remained. They deserve this, Stephen thought grimly. He smiled at them, feeling his cheeks stretch.
“Uncle?!” Mury’s voice reached him, wavering. She forced herself to her feet, glancing around at the band of shadowed men who blocked the doorway. “What do they mean?”
Stephen closed his eyes. Forgive me, but you are expendable. “This is for our king. The young Bale will take his rights.” His tone surprised even him. It was cold, and without any hint of the nerves which clung to him like sweat. “I consent, Soul. Take them. They are yours.”
“WHAT?” Randy pointed his sword at Stephen, as Mury began to scream. “You sold your own . . . you traitor!”
Traitor. A cold trickle filtered down his neck, but Stephen ignored it. I did this for you, Bale. He had done Banemort proud.
Soul’s eyes returned into his sockets, now bleeding red.
“Very well. Servants, begin the sacrifice.” he commanded. Adane lurched heavily to his feet, his clothing stained with his blood. His eyes were glassy, two orbs staring at something which he couldn’t say. His movements were slow and impaired, the cuts he gave himself had bitten too deeply. Alhmir rushed to support him, his shouts for help barely reaching Stephen’s ears. He was finally at peace.
The men of the Keidan closed in.
The Price of the Piper - Jeremy Gohier
The Talking Cedar - Britt Haraway
surprised when my mother’s three hundred year old Cedar tree began yelling at
me, although quite pleased to be in the middle of a real enchantment. I had
thought a tree would be like in the ones in the kid’s movies, wisdom sprouting
from its mossy ears, this deep-rooted patience we humans should learn from.
This tree, a Lebanese Cedar that my mother had bragged about since my youth,
had been planted to commemorate Louis the XIV’s birth, and it now towered over
our yard, outliving all French kings. Its voice startled me coming down invisible as if from the sky. My brie and wine tipped over into the shallow
grass as I backed away, and I dropped the Rumi I'd been reading out loud. The
tree was angry. His curses became
convoluted and extreme. By the end of this confusing and frightening speech,
his mouth was so raw that sap bled on the grass, and flew out spraying my white
T-shirt, the sight of which calmed him and drove him to an equally confusing
I’d been so good, he said. The relapse of rage caught me off guard. He
apologized, repeatedly, the first of his sentences that I truly understood and
I assured him that I hadn’t taken his insults personally. But now that you
mention it, I said, you don’t sound like a very happy tree. He said was that he wasn’t always like this.
Once he’d been quiet like other trees and in love.
Damsel In Distress - M.W. King
Damsel In Distress - M.W. King
“Sword handling? Speed? Determination? Anything?” The king began to raise his voice. “Please tell me how a shepherd will defeat a dragon. What could you possibly know that they did not?” He pointed to the wall where dozens of various pieces of armor hung from spikes, all charred or crushed and one helmet still smoking.
Oryon’s breath caught in his throat. He was unable to take his eyes off the tribute to fallen soldiers. His confidence faltered; how could he prevail when no one else had so far? He thought of the reward. Three chests full of gold coins could last him for the rest of his life, maybe even liberate him from the slums.
“My cleverness, Your Highness,” he said, finally prying his eyes away.
“Yes.” Oryon squared his shoulders and stuck out his chin. “It takes much cleverness to be a successful shepherd. I must tend to my flock and anticipate the care they require. I must be clever enough to keep up with their foolishness and be sure they do not die from their own stupidity. Not only that, but I must be clever enough to stay ahead of the animals that prey on them.” He paused, looking back at the helmets for only an instant. “I’d be willing to wager that all of these men were chosen for their brute strength or sword skills, but none for their ability to outsmart beasts. As far as I can tell, I am the best man for the job.”
“Perhaps there is some truth to your words,” the king said, folding his hands in his lap.
“And furthermore, Your Highness,” Oryon’s façade of confidence got the better of him as he blurted out, “I believe a reward of only a few gold-filled chests are a bit underwhelming, considering the stakes involved.”
“And what would you propose to be a satisfactory reward?”
“The princess’s hand in marriage.” The last bit of confidence drained away, along with the color in his face.
King Nicholas shifted on his throne and scratched his beard. Although he still stared at Oryon, a different emotion shone behind his eyes. He glanced at his queen, whose expression remained unchanged. He turned back to Oryon.
“I will approve this . . . if you fulfill these promises you’ve made. If you return. And as there’s a great possibility it’s too late for the princess, try to bring the dragon back alive, but alive is not a necessity. The mages tell me there are as many uses for dead dragons as there are for living ones.”
Morrighan - Stacey Jaine McIntosh
Morrighan - Stacey Jaine McIntosh
Camelot was burning. Avalon was under attack... from dragons. The very creatures who graced the banners which flew high and proud on the many flag poles were going to bring about its end. The symbol of Pendragon no longer stood for power, peace and protection, but death and destruction. Their very existence in the skies above spelled ruin for all of Camelot; not just its King. Was this what the Morríghan spoke of when she foresaw Arthur’s death? Morgan couldn't be sure. Laying a hand on her stomach, the child within was restless, as if it too sensed the calamity surrounding the world outside the womb. She doubted the Morríghan would help her twice, and Arthur wouldn’t suffer her insolence for long, not that she cared what Arthur thought of her. She’d sooner take up residence in a nunnery than carry his favour.
Even as she thought it, Morgan knew she was lying to herself. Arthur was King and Arthur was fey, and the fey did terrible things and they weren't to be crossed, Morgan knew. Arthur’s fears were few, and until a few months ago his only fear was ravens. Now that he feared his own mortality, Morgan wondered if he – as she did – feared the Dragons. She hadn’t seen Badb, Nemain or Macha for near on a fortnight now, it was unlike them to disappear and she didn’t think the Morríghan would have forsaken her so soon after announcing her presence. Unless the Morríghan, like Arthur, had fears of her own and those fears included dragons.