War Predators

The one called Dana was incessant.  Every sound that came from the surrounding jungle was met with a “What was that?” and the near constant questions about safety and security in these lands made it difficult for Caryx to process his own thoughts.

By Joe Salamone

Joe Salamone is a gamer, narrative designer, and writer.  His belief is that the written word is only one way to tell a story, and that through imagery and music, a well told-tale can take on an energy that goes well beyond what’s written on the page.  His hope is to one day craft stories that can be put to use in video games or around the roleplaying table.


Caryx,

I trust you are well.  I have a task for you.  I feel you may be the one most suited for it, and I trust that you will take the utmost care in fulfilling it.  We have received an emissary from Tarith recently with a request.  I’m sure she will make her requests known almost immediately.  Please see to it that she is provided with the utmost respect and care, as her larger requests are pondered by Her Majesty.  When completed, please see that the emissary returns safely, so that she may have her audience with Her Majesty. 

Respectfully,
Nin’Sari Valden


Caryx stared at the words on the page.  The heavy seal of the Mamean Circle completed the letter, which Caryx searched heavily for any other details, though he could find none.  His amber eyes darted quickly between the words on the single piece of paper and the young human girl standing in front of him.  The two of them stood face to face -- or face to chest, as she was significantly smaller than him.  Her blue cloak stood out from the greens and browns of the jungle that framed her as a backdrop.  She had arrived alone, carrying only her own small pack and this single-page letter.

As he lowered the page, he began the task of studying her.  Small in stature and young, by his reckoning.  Her cloak protected her head from the rains that often swept through this area, and her eyes remained fixed on his. 

In all of his years as a game warden on the Mamea Nubandu preserve, he felt that the most telling feature of any living being was the eyes.  Her eyes were big, bright blue, and unwavering.  If not for the conviction behind them, Caryx would say that these were eyes of a prey animal: a scared creature whose purpose was to run and to feed whatever larger beast found her first.

“Well?” the girl said, breaking the silence.

“What is request?” Caryx responded flatly.

The girl let out a large sigh.  “A request.  If I ask you for a…” She paused slightly. “Like a favor.”

“I know what request is.  What is request?” Caryx asked impatiently. 

The girl blinked.  “Oh!  Oh, you mean my request.  Of course.  Well, I have been sent from Griffinrock to evaluate the possibility of training large predators for use in armed conflict.” 

Caryx flicked his tongue at this.  “Armed conflict not for animals.”

The girl lowered her head. “Well, yes.  Right now they are not, but with the proper training, as we’ve done with our gryphons, they could very well turn the tide--

 


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Vigmarr the Scarred

Vigmarr wasn’t ready to share his story yet. He was beyond grateful that Elly understood that. What would she say if she found out the truth? He couldn’t bear to hurt her. Yet he couldn’t bear to keep thinking about it, either.

By Katrina Schroeder

Katrina Schroeder is a book coach, editor, and writer. When she's not knee-deep in words, she's playing tabletop and video games, reading more books than she can keep up with, or is in a kayak. She can be found on Twitter as @katrinaeditorial1 or you can learn more about her on her website at katrinaeditorial.com.


The village lay just ahead at the bottom of the hill, a few miles west of Bataklik Forest. The sky was gray, threatening to spit rain, and smoke rose from a few of the homesteads. Vigmarr wrapped his wolf-skin cloak a little tighter around him. The temperature was comfortable, but the sight of the village settled within the fog brought a shiver that shook him to his core.

Who the grel am I kidding? Vigmarr knew the shiver wasn’t the thought of the coming winter. He didn’t have the courage to make his way down the hill.

He’d camped just outside of town over the night. After taking six months to return home, he didn’t think one more night away would make a difference. Grel, his family probably thought he was dead anyway. He could just keep traveling and continue taking up mercenary work here and there, but none of those battles carried the same rage and excitement that they used to.

No, his family deserved to know. Elly deserved to know.

“Screw it.”

Vigmarr hefted his bag over his shoulder and made his way home.

He felt like the walk down the hill was the longest and heaviest walk of his life. But he also didn’t want it to end. The sooner it ended, the quicker he was in town. He grunted, shifted the weight of his bag, and picked up his pace. Dust kicked up around him, and it carried with it a nostalgic scent. He hadn’t been gone for more than a year, and yet the familiar scent of home’s earth elicited a softer grunt from his throat. His face began to relax.

Vigmarr finally crossed the village threshold and stopped. It didn’t feel any different. Why did he think it would? He shook his head and continued on.

“Vigmarr? Holy chit, boys, it’s Vigmarr the Scarred as I live and breathe!” He turned at the familiar voice. A young man, about Vigmarr’s daughter’s age, jogged up, followed by a few other young Yeni soldiers.

Tomas whistled as he got closer to Vigmarr. “Wow, I heard the stories, but they sure don’t do it justice. Trade ya a drink for each story you have for those scars.”

Vigmarr nodded his head once at Tomas and grunted. “Grab that drink another time? I best be getting home to Elly.”

Tomas nodded, and his eyes softened with grief. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”

Vigmarr turned to leave.

“Vigmarr?”

Vigmarr stopped but didn’t turn around.

“I’m sorry. We’ll catch that drink soon. You deserve it.”

No, kid. I don’t. But he nodded and continued further into the village.

 


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Freeport, No More

“Mage!” one of the men yelled, and chaos erupted.

“Get back, get back now!” Reylan called out. One of the best ways to fight a mage is with one of your own, but the nearest Tarithian mage was hundreds of miles to the north. He wondered why such a valuable asset would be here, on what amounted to garrison duty. Could the Krygons really afford to send one on such a menial task? If so, it did not bode well for their war effort…

Freeport, No More

By Rob De Graaff

Rob De Graaff is a history enthusiast and amateur writer from New Jersey.


Captain Reylan Ceidwyd was thinking about griffins.

He had seen them only fleetingly on a handful of occasions: small forms that soared and dove through the sky, the knights on their backs urging them on to more spectacular maneuvers. He had only seen one up close once, a creature the size of a horse, ill-tempered, but still possessing a noble bearing. He would never ride one himself, of course. He wasn’t that foolish.

Yet if we had one of them, we would know what’s happening in Freeport by now, he mused.

He stood and lit a candle to illuminate his path. A part of him recoiled at the idea of lighting a fire in enemy territory, but this deep within the cave system, in the foothills north of the port city, exceptions could be made. For want of anything better to do, Reylan strode towards the entrance of the cave, ostensibly to inspect the state of his men, but more to alleviate boredom that was a soldier’s constant companion. As he passed, most of his own men nodded or gave a simple greeting, while the Yeni among them either glowered as he passed or were in a stupor from the events they had witnessed.

About two months earlier, the Krygons had invaded, their great armada appearing out of the mists and landing to the south of the merchant city of Freeport. The army disembarked and marched, unopposed, overland for a handful of leagues to lay siege to the city, while the rest of their fleet blockaded Freeport’s harbor. The native Yeni put up a valiant resistance in the city itself, but soon Freeport was overwhelmed by the raw numbers of the southerners. When word of the siege reached Tarith, Queen Caitlin and her High Court wasted no time, and soon Reylan and his company of rangers were aboard a ship taking them south. They disembarked under the cover of night and hid in the foothills of the Tarithian Mountains north of Freeport, gathering up a handful of the siege’s survivors along the way. The Yeni they found had been hiding there for nearly a month, squatting in one of the caves carved out by the ever-shifting Dehitero River.

Reylan reached the entrance of the cave and blew out the candle before crossing the threshold. The two guards stationed there, Valos and Belowhent, both greeted him quietly, before turning their gaze outwards. Reylan had several more men further out as pickets, ready to report back any enemy movements, but so far there was no sign of the enemy.

“Any sign of Harlak?” he asked.

“None, sir,” Valos said. He was an wuyon’mar, and his actual name was something that Reylan had given up trying to pronounce years ago. “I’ll spot him long before you, sir.”

Reylan looked out to the south. He and his company were in the foothills to the northeast of Freeport, the first break in the near-endless grasslands that stretched to the south. To his right, he could make out a haze in the air: the tell-tale sign of a large city-state, caused by countless cookfires and not, Reylan hoped, conflagrations still raging from Krygon’s battle-magi. The greater smudge on the horizon, near the ocean, was the city itself.

“Let me know the moment you see something,” he told Valos.

Just then, he heard a commotion behind him, deeper into the cave complex. It was not loud, but certainly louder than he wanted. The voice was speaking in Tarithian, but it had a thick accent, and Reylan’s shoulders sagged when he heard it.

“Not this again,” he mumbled to no one in particular, but he caught a glimpse of Valos and Belowhent grinning.

“Where is he? I must speak with him!” shouted the voice, coming closer. “I cannot stand this any more!”

“Have fun with that, sir,” the wuyon’mar ranger said.

Reylan turned and almost ran headlong into Sansomer Grellando, a Yeni merchant or commander of the city watch of Freeport, or… something. He had been rather vague as to his true occupation, but Reylan figured that was typical of Yeniden and did not want to press the matter further.

“There you are, Old Man,” said the Yeni. Reylan was known as “the Old Man”, more due to the streaks of iron-gray in his otherwise jet-black hair, rather than his twenty-seven years. “This is too long! Too long indeed!” The man’s voice was increasing in volume as he spoke.

“Our lives will get much shorter if you don’t keep your voice down,” Reylan said, trying his best to mollify the man.

Sansomer quieted himself, but the intensity of his displeasure remained. “It is been over a month,” he said angrily. “One month! we have sat in these caves, and done nothing except go on some fruitless patrols. My city, my people are under occupation by Krygon, and yet we sit here idle. Continue reading “Freeport, No More”

The Sins of the Mother

“After all,” she said, “a mother must always do what’s best for her children.”

By Malcolm Schmitz

Malcolm Schmitz is an autistic author who writes about queer people, eldritch angels, nebbish unicorns, and lace-making orcs. His fiction has been published in Crossed Genres, Fusion Fragment, and Sword and Sorcery Magazine; his short story “The Captain’s Sphere” made the Long List for the 2015 Otherwise Award.


Lady Lutisse climbed up the Assassin’s Steps, her baby heavy on her back.

She squinted and shaded her eyes. The Altar was half a day’s walk up a rocky hill, hidden in a huddled clump of trees at the peak. With every step, she could make out a little more of the simple slab, half-hidden by leaves and a fallen tree. It was only when she got closer that she could see the faint stain on the stone: the dull-rust mark of blood.

In the ancient days, when her mother’s mother’s mother was a girl, the Nemethan assassins gathered at this Altar. They’d spilled the blood of man and ‘mar upon the stone. With every drop, the Altar drank the anima of the dead.

Now, it was long-forgotten, a relic of the ancient past. The gods’ grand altars dwelt in Gymalg G’mai and His now, far across Lutisse’s homeland of Krygon. The memory of the Altar only lived on in the whispers of women, women who were too trapped and desperate to see any other way out. But, forgotten or not, this was still a place of power. 

Pray here, and someone would answer. Bargain well, and someone would die.

Lady Lutisse stopped at the altar.

Behind her, her son stirred in his sleep. She took a deep breath. She’d come here for his sake. For him, she’d do far worse.  A mother must always do what is best for her children.

She knelt; the leaves crumpled beneath her. Cold mud oozed through the hem of her skirt. She clasped her hands.

When praying, there was always the question of which god to address. Petitioning a god for something outside their purview was a fools’ errand. Petitioning a god for something in another god’s purview was worse than foolish.

All gods knew death, some more intimately than others, but not all gods would kill, or let their worshippers kill in their name. If Lutisse was fool enough to pray to Shen-Bahan for her husband’s death, she’d be struck down for her impudence.

Carro, the Paladin God, might kill her husband for justice’s sake. But her husband wasn’t cruel to her: not the way that one might expect. He’d never raised a hand to her, never shouted, never cursed. That would require him to speak to her.

Sar’Kata, the Trickster God, might kill her husband for the sake of a good joke. But there was nothing funny about her situation, and a prank would change nothing. The power her husband held would simply pass to her son. Sar’Kata wouldn’t care for that.

Sirillon, the Burning God… now, that had potential. Sirillon gave life and death alike, with little care for justice or mercy, just as the Sun did. He might help her, if she promised Him what He wanted.

Lutisse bowed her head and began to pray.

The words of the prayer were strange, passed down from some long-forgotten time. In the village where Lutisse had grown up, it was an old legend, passed down quietly from mother to daughter; her mother had told it to her the same way she’d told her the recipe for pennyroyal tea. If you’ve married a man who shouts at you, or hits you, or makes you feel worthless, the legend said, here is a way out.

Lutisse had always thought it was an old wives’ tale. The gods didn’t speak to mortals, much less take orders like a common demon. But in desperate enough circumstances, she’d take any tool the world offered her. And her foremothers’ old prayer was a powerful tool indeed, if it did what the legends said it would.

She knew the gist of what the prayer meant: an invocation given to the god, a conjuring rite, a binding promise. It was a complicated spell, one that even a Temple-mage might have fumbled. But the power of the Altar was so strong that even a child could cast a spell of death here.

When she opened her eyes, a woman sat upon the Altar.

Lutisse blinked. She’d expected a bearded, brawny God, a God with a grim face and a smith’s hammer. But the gods sometimes chose to take different forms. The ‘mari saw the gods as ‘mari; the Little Folk had small gods.

But the Assassin’s Altar was a sanctuary, now, for women in pain. Perhaps Sirillon had chosen this form to make her more comfortable.

The woman’s black hair brushed the ground. Her green dress blended with the forest; Lutisse’s eye was drawn up to Her pale, pointed face. A dark burn scar curved over the woman’s left eye, taking the shape of a sunburst. Her gaze was dark, sharp and commanding; Her back, straight. For a long moment, all Lutisse could do was stare.

“You invoke me?” The God’s voice was cold as the altar’s stone. “What do you seek, and what do you offer?” Continue reading “The Sins of the Mother”

The Doom of Tarek

“Just look around: you’ll find something to laugh about under any rock. The world doesn’t make sense anymore… What else is left for us to do except to drink and laugh away our sorrow… If death is around the corner, then I want to face Him with a tankard in my hand and a smile on my face.” 

By Hristijan Pavlovski

Hristijan Pavlovski is a professor of Philosophy who loves art as much as he loves wisdom. His philosophy is that no other medium can summon the full range of human emotion quite like the literary arts can, and it is his goal to explore the extent of that.


My dearest sister,

I am writing you this final letter to announce my coming home. The months have been hard on me here in the Shey Lands, but I have prospered.

How is everything in Stormvale country? 

Ahh, silly me. I got so used to asking you this question with every letter that I forgot that your reply would not reach me here. Yet, I am not sad at the thought of your reply not reaching me, for I will be elated to hear all that news from you personally. 

The lands here are cold, vicious even. Yet, I was left with no choice after Father died. I had to find prosperity somewhere, for I could no longer bear to look into your eyes anymore. The way the light dimmed each time I had to reveal to you that there would be no food that day. I could not stand it anymore. 

Luckily, Sar’Kata grinned at us. Had that foreman not passed through our village looking for able-bodied men, then I fear what our fates would have been. Father, for all the good he did, was a prideful man. He never wanted to teach me the family craft, because he feared I’d surpass him one day. He was a good carpenter but not a very good father. He was a good husband at least: he never once struck mother. I hope that she is doing well. She couldn’t offer us much, but at least she taught us to read and write the Sailor’s Speech.

The work here is hard, it drives a man to his breaking point. The foreman cares for us; I believe his heart is benevolent, but the master of the land keeps asking for more and more. Each time we manage to chop down 14 timbers, the master demands 15 the next day. We barely have time to mourn those who fall. For we know that, as soon as we bury the body, we’ll have to get back to work. You become unsure which you mourn more: his death, or that you have to continue working without an extra pair of hands to assist you. 

Simeon’s death struck us the most. He was a good kid, came all the way from Timberfalls country. He was experienced at hewing the wood, but we all cherished him for his wit. Especially on the hardest days, he would always manage to cheer us up. Being separated from one’s nest for so long tends to eat at a man’s heart. 

The food, well, it is palatable. On some days we eat good – on others, you get sick from the barley and turnips. On the good days, the hunters might bring in a mountain goat. Sometimes we get hare, or lemmings if the hunter’s dogs manage to dig them up. But on the days that they don’t manage to catch anything, we get that gods-awful barley. I swear, as soon as I come back, we will never, ever, cook barley again in our house. 

Over the months, I have managed to save up two satchels worth of coins. That should last us until next year at least, we just have to be frugal about it. When I come back, I intend to propose to Ignes, my beloved. Please do not spoil the surprise by revealing this news to her! I want to see the smile upon her face. Her smile is what I have missed the most since I came here. In my free time, I play our favorite songs on the flute that I brought along with me. Her favorite was always “Prancing Meadows.” I remember singing it to her last summer as we sat upon the hillside staring down at the meadows. 

“Dancing, prancing meadows / call you today. Dancing, prancing meadows / call you to play. The hare is out, the fox about, the song is in the wind. Will you join us for a dance: a dance until the end…”

I cannot wait to embrace her once more and profess my love to her. The only ones I’ve embraced in the past few months are the stinking lumbermen. You have to. When the wind starts blowing upon our shack in the evening hours, we begin to pray that the whole thing doesn’t come down right on top of us. The creaking of the shingles sends us off to sleep each and every night; after a while, it becomes almost like a melody.

But now, with the winter months soon approaching, we have to deal with the snow as well. The living conditions are becoming unbearable.  Every time it hails, we have to patch up the shack in the morning. I grow tired of plugging holes. And the food is becoming more and more scarce, as most of the animals have begun hibernating. The only thing left are a few roots, some grasses, and that damned barley. 

I’d wish I could write more about my situation, but I do not live a very exciting life. The life of the common man has always been constrained to poetry and song. I guess no lord wishes to see upon their walls the “filthy peasants” underneath him going about their day. They prefer to grace their murals and tapestries with prettier sights. 

So, I leave you with a poem I wrote. It helps me accept my fate.  Continue reading “The Doom of Tarek”

How to Tame a Gryphon

To be a gryphon rider, you must know the Aerie.

A Rite of Passage: How to Tame a Gryphon and What You Need to Know

“Even Those Meant for Greatness Can Fail”

A pamphlet scribed and illustrated by Roger Hermit


Writing by Kizzie Le Carpentier

Kizzie Le Carpentier is a graduate of Plymouth University in the U.K. She published her first book, “The Walk Back Home” in June of 2021.

Art by A. Broadhead

A. Broadhead has been writing since she was little, though she took a roundabout route to getting published, including a degree in Psychology and a stint doing social work. Her first full novel, “The Hottest Day of the Year”, is due to come out at the end of 2022.


What it means to be a Gryphon Rider

The pleasure of the wind on your face, as it blows your hair frantically all over the place, is immeasurable. When you’re up that high, it feels like you’re the one flying. It’s irresistible not to spread your arms out.

The smell of dew and leaves and soil, the smell the dawn brings…

The sun reflects off the water as you glide your toes over the lake’s surface. The warmth of the sun on your face and the joy it brings is bliss. You get to watch everything come to life. You get to watch the sun rise and set each and every day.

If you fly far enough, you’ll reach the water’s edge, to the sandy beaches and fierce shore tides, and watch the beauty of the sky as it changes color throughout the day.

The forests seem small when you can see everything below; the rivers seem like puddles, the rocks of the mountains seem like small stones; everything seems so small and yet endless. 

You get to fly over all of Tarith: over Griffinrock, over Castellea, over Stormvale, over Lion’s Head and over Timberfalls. You get to watch the people in the cities and the villages from above and dive on intruders who are below.

It is your responsibility to kill and plunder when needed, to have the courage and joy of plunging your gryphon’s talons into the heads of our enemies.

It is your responsibility to serve.

In return for your courage, sacrifice, and commitment, you will be given titles, wealth, women, and a true sense of meaning. It does not matter what background you come from: if you have the skill to tame a gryphon, you have the right to power.

In return for the knowledge that is given upon on your ‘rite of passage’, you will give your life to the people and to your King, and you will not fail him. The most important thing to remember is your responsibility to obey orders and carry them out without question.

This is what it means to be a gryphon rider.

Shining in the Darkness

He started to say something else – an order, most likely – but then a horn overpowered his voice. The captain growled, shooting a glance towards his men and attempting to fire off a reprimand, before another horn blast did the same.

And another, and another… Sir Lusant returned his gaze to Captain Peter and found his face had gone white.

And the mountain itself roared.

By Gatlin Peavler

Gatlin Peavler is an author with a love for ye olde fairy tales, myths, and chivalric romance. He has an admiration bordering on obsession with the knightly ideal, found in books like "Le Morte d'Arthur" and "The Song of Roland", and he hopes to evoke a piece of that in his fiction.

Sir Lusant looked up and thought there had never been a moment when the sky so perfectly captured the reflection of the affairs of the earth beneath it.

Dusk had settled unevenly across the heavens. In the north, the palette of twilight colors was still blue and clear of cloud or star, stretching into strange violets as the celestial painter moved his brush southwards. Like gilded stones, spears of distant sunlight skipped and bounded upon the westward ocean. Their gentle warmth struggled to cross the waves and touch the paladin, fighting a battle against time before the sea would swallow the sun whole in the coming hours.

Directly above him, pale yellow clouds  knit themselves thicker and thicker, like a tapestry. Tendrils of black miasma reached towards them, rising from somewhere behind the impenetrable Alt’Rhazian mountain range: heralds of yet-unseen engines of war. The air was at once still and restless. Wind buffeted the grass at his feet and drew the cloud cover further north, the darkening front threatening to suffocate him as it enveloped the world entirely.

Sir Lusant could not yet see a moon. He could not remember if any would be shining tonight.

A voice, deep and coarse, brought him back to earth.

“Behold our knight in shining armor, up here with his head in the clouds,” it scoffed.

Sir Lusant blinked once before refocusing on the reality below him. With a sigh, he turned to the square face of a man scowling at him.

The man’s rough features seemed marble-esque beneath the dignified uniform that marked him as one of Tarith’s captains. His brown eyes met Sir Lusant’s in a moment of mutual acknowledgement before they re-focused on the field beneath them, watching the men he commanded preparing for war.

“Any reason you’re not down there?” the captain asked.

“Prayer, contemplation – paladin things.” Sir Lusant smiled gently.

The captain snorted. “You’re nervous.”

“You know what they say about knights in shining armor,” Sir Lusant admitted as he gestured to himself, highlighting the contrast between them. The young knight nearly sparkled in comparison to the veteran; Sir Lusant was fit but unscarred, features fair and only barely stained by long hours in the sun. His armor was resplendent with the shining symbols of his order and of his god. In contrast, Captain Peter only entertained the absolute minimum of ostentations for his uniform so that his soldiers would recognize him as captain.

“You couldn’t have picked a better battle to test your mettle on,” assured the captain. “It’s not Scythe Fort – well, grel, that’s the point! It’s a hole in the damn mountains, leading right into their gods-forsaken country.”

“Through the Reaches,” the paladin reminded.

“A hole,” corrected the captain, “that they don’t expect us to come through.” He chuckled at a joke only he seemed to know. “They’re going to learn buying information works both ways.”

 


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The Treeless Tundra Road

A small light coming from behind me catches my attention; getting ever closer, the distinct sound of boots compacting the snow restores some of my hope. A tall cloaked figure approaches me. I can’t see what they look like through the snow, but I focus on the lantern in their hand and what sounds like a bell clinking with every step they take.

“You’re going to die if you stay out here.” A man’s voice calls out to me from behind the shield of falling snow. A harsh voice, an unused voice.

The Treeless Tundra Road

By Kizzie Le Carpentier

Kizzie Le Carpentier is a graduate of Plymouth University in the U.K. She published her first book, “The Walk Back Home” in June of 2021.

I love books, movies and stories that unravel a new world with new creatures. I love it when a writer makes up something completely new and unreal – but I love it even more when a writer can convince me that their fantasy world could be real.

Kizzie Le Carpentier

“Goodnight; sweet dreams.” I lean in to place a kiss on my child’s forehead and tuck the sheets into the bed. My dark hair falls over my shoulders and drapes over the bedsheets. 

“Where are you going, Mummy?” My little girl looks into my eyes and then at my thick fur-lined cloak.

“I’m just going out for a bit. I’ll be back. If you need anything at all, just ask your brother.” I stroke my daughter’s head with my gloved hand.

The wind outside was hitting the hut and making the wooden shutters shake. I stand up and walk over to my son, waiting patiently at the door, and place my hand on his cheek, stroking it with my thumb.

“You make sure to look after your sister while I’m gone.”

“Yes, mother.” His eyes are watery; it is obvious from his clenched jaw that he’s fighting back the tears. His remaining parent is about to leave in the same manner as his negligent father. He coughs into his hand.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. Make sure you get some sleep too.” I walk over to the bedroom door, which is also the front door, and slide my fur boots on. 

I look over at the countertops, making sure there is food and water on the side and then look to make sure all the shutters are closed and that the key was where my seven-year-old could reach it. The cold made the dampness on the ceiling reek and the air harsh. The fire is raging, but it does little for comfort.

“Make sure to lock the door behind me. And don’t answer for anyone other than me.” I open the door, and a freezing gust of wind blows into the hut as I step outside into the darkness. Continue reading “The Treeless Tundra Road”

The Beast of Saltern

“The Beast,” Owen whispered as his stomach sank like a stone. “…am I right, Alys?”

She nodded and whimpered softly. “Everything happened so fast… Rhys was playing by the gate… Then something roared, and he screamed. When I looked up, this thing held him in its mouth as it bolted for the trees.”

The boy had seemed so full of life when they met on the road to Saltern. So full of questions. And now, just a few hours later, Rhys was… gone. Snuffed out by a creature who didn’t even belong on this Sphere of existence.

The Beast of Saltern

By Austin Worley

A native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Austin Worley writes speculative fiction and poetry. His published stories include heroic fantasy, Weird Westerns inspired by the rich history of his home state, and genre-bending tales starring the vigilante Whippoorwill. When he isn’t writing, Austin enjoys amateur astronomy and astrophotography, reading, video games, and spending time with his family. You can follow him on Twitter @AMWorley_Writer.

Despite the fly buzzing around his face, Sir Owen Gibbs didn’t move a muscle. Not even when a salty breeze rocked the bough where he perched. Instead, he stared at a crimson stain on the beach below. Glistening blood pooled around the half-eaten goat staked out here as bait, while duller splotches were the only trace of an elderly workman slain on his way to the salterns that lent the nearby village its name.

I never should’ve waited out that storm in Bredon. Maybe the poor grandfather would still live if he’d braved the driving rain. Maybe he would’ve already bagged the man-eater folk had dubbed the Beast of Saltern.

Teeth grit, Owen fit a bolt into the flight groove of his heavy crossbow. Just one more thing to regret… At least sitting up over a kill offered him a chance to avenge the salter and everyone else who’d fallen victim to the Beast. If the man-eater didn’t think this place was safe, he would’ve dragged the goat somewhere else instead of eating in the same spot where he’d devoured the old man. He’d return for a third meal sooner or later.

Now, now, Owen reminded himself, could be a she. Some ice bear sow or mountain tigress come down from the Tuthei Shey in search of easier prey. Folk did claim the Beast was of a similar size. Then again, he wasn’t sure how much stock he put in those accounts. Nobody with a good look at the man-eater had lived to tell the tale, so eyewitness reports were fleeting and contradictory. Some described it as decidedly feline, others said stout and bulky like a bear, and a few sounded downright demonic.

Personally, he doubted most of them even described the same creature. Sightings ranged from the foothills of the Tuthei Shey all the way down the coast into Tarith, and rumor held the Beast of Saltern responsible for almost two hundred deaths over the past year. Ridiculous. Folk had probably just attributed unrelated attacks and disappearances to a particularly vicious bear or a white Sheyn tiger. Maybe even a lion who’d wandered up from Yeniden or escaped some circus. Over his long career as a royal forester, he’d witnessed stranger things.

Clouds drifted across the face of the brightest moon, and Owen instinctively tensed at the deepening darkness. Was this how humanity spent its nights in ancient days? Huddled up in the trees and caves of primordial Talmenor? Hiding from predators? At least the gods have granted us tools since then…

Resting his crossbow’s stirrup on a fork in the branch, he wrapped his legs around the thick bough and flattened himself against its bark. Perfect! The dead goat lay squarely in his sights from this vantage point. If the Beast of Saltern returned craving leftover chevon, he’d have a clear shot at the unsuspecting man-eater. And with such a heavy draw weight, one shot from this crossbow was enough. More than enough.

 For what felt like an eternity, he sat in silence. Stars wheeled across the partially clouded sky, and anxiety began nibbling at his gut. Did he catch my scent? Ripening aromas from the carcass below should have masked him, but even the slightest whiff of potential danger might drive his prey away from its favorite haunt.

Before worry could swallow him up, Owen heard the sweetest sound anyone hunting man-eaters could ask for: the snorting alarm of a deer. But it sounded…off. Halting. Almost like it didn’t know whether to fear whatever had caught its attention.

Something rustled in the underbrush about a hundred paces to his left, and a silhouette slunk onto the beach. What in damnation…? The shadow moved with the graceful gait of a panther yet stood taller than most bears and carried even more muscle around its shoulders. A short tail swayed as the creature padded over for a second helping of goat. Some sort of injury? After all, its thick mane suggested a male lion.

Then the clouds parted.

Moonlight bathed everything in silver, the spiny quills around its neck glinted like a bristling wall of pikes, and he knew this fiend defied nature simply by setting foot on Talmenor. Gods have mercy!

The Beast of Saltern was a nekru.

Continue reading “The Beast of Saltern”

Seven Diamonds for Soqqith

“Deliver the gem to Nushaba,” Soqqith whispered. “Break my chains, and you shall be a mother again.”

By Austin Worley

A native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Austin Worley writes speculative fiction and poetry. His published stories include heroic fantasy, Weird Westerns inspired by the rich history of his home state, and genre-bending tales starring the vigilante Whippoorwill. When he isn't writing, Austin enjoys amateur astronomy and astrophotography, reading, video games, and spending time with his family. You can follow him on Twitter @AMWorley_Writer.


When Hawwa bint Huda el-Zaidi spied a column of smoke rising against the rosy sky, the voice in her head spoke for the first time all week.

“Hurry!”

She stiffened at the desperation dripping from his voice. Before now, Soqqith only ever addressed her with sibilant whispers. Soft. Gentle. Almost a lullaby. Nothing like his latest command. Why would smoke worry a creature mighty enough to grant her powers beyond imagination and promise even more?

“Hurry!”

Anxiety fluttered in her chest. The smoke…wasn’t it rising from the northeast? And didn’t her maps say the ancient ruins of Nushaba stood off that way? Oh gods! Someone threatened the temple, and if his acolytes fell before she delivered her cargo—

 


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