Back in Axe-tion

“Hmm… It is a magic axe… Maybe it’s my ‘Cast Iron’?” crowed Granny Dun.

Granny!” Sirdrae cried in exasperation. Thalir chuckled from a few feet away as he swung at his next foe.

“See? He gets it!” Granny took a step forward and smiled…

Back in Axe-tion

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.


Rock and dust trickled down on Sirdrae as she chipped away at her work. The clinking of Little Folk pickaxes against stone echoed throughout the cavern around her. She paused a moment to close her eyes and let the symphony envelop her. She loved this. Nothing felt more right than when she was surrounded by the chorus of axes and stony earth. Sirdrae thought she could sometimes hear where the mineral sat in the stone, like a lone horn playing quietly and poignantly above the rest of the orchestra. She often wondered if it was her imagination, explaining away a coincidence, or if she held a little mage power herself.

She felt a nudge at her arm, and she opened her eyes to see her grandmother standing next to her.

“You gonna stand there all day, or you actually gonna get some work done, huh?” Granny Dun’s toothy smile was almost as contagious as her laughter. She began chiseling at the stone wall next to Sirdrae.

“Hey, Granny. I was just enjoying the moment.” Sirdrae swung her pickaxe at the stone in front of her. The day’s work had been slow going. She hadn’t found much of anything exciting.

“Well, I guess I’ll allow it. There’s nothing like the sound of a bunch of Little Folk grunting as they slam metal to stone, is there?” She cast a side eye to Sirdrae and followed it with a wink.

Sirdrae chuckled and shook her head. “No, nothing like it at all.” As much as she loved the sound, it still made her a little anxious. There had been rumors of demonspawn attacks further down in the Reaches, specifically on outlying mining villages. The news always came from clans much farther away though, so she felt a little safer. Only a little though: the worry still ate at her, like a hungry dog gnawing at a dry bone.

The dark metal of Granny Dun’s axe shimmered in the lamplight as she raised it to chink at the next bit of rock. Sirdrae’s heart fluttered, and she almost jumped from excitement. “Wait, that’s not steel! Is that a new axe, Granny? Made with the new metal?”

Granny Dun hefted her axe to better show it off. Now that was a sight to behold. Her massive braids of white hair piled about her shoulders, each intertwined with runic metal cuffs. One hand rested on her hip while she proudly held up the axe with the other. The sparkle on the bladed head matched the happy glint in Granny Dun’s eye.

The handle was ornately decorated with runic patterns that were beyond precise. Sirdrae knew Dolgan’s work — her husband and the clan’s mage-smith — the moment she saw it, but Granny’s new axe was impressive, even for Dolgan. The pommel had a green gem that glowed slightly. Dolgan must have added a little bit of magic to it to give the axe additional strength against chipping and breaking, Sirdrae thought. The head itself held no intricacies, but it didn’t need any in order to be beautiful. The black material had been polished and shined as though it had never been touched. She could practically see her own reflection in the black blade.

“You’re darn right! It’s waystone.”

Continue reading “Back in Axe-tion”

The Last of the Wvorgi

“Quiet!” Brodin shouted over his shoulder at the frightened men and women. He stood between them and the door to the mage tower. “He is a Wvorgi! He did not hurt Khalen, but he may be able to find him.”

“The Wvorgi are extinct!” a man shouted. “They haven’t been seen in decades.”

“They are extinct,” confirmed Brodin. “He is the last, and we need his help.”

The Last of the Wvorgi

by Brittni Smyers

This story contains some mature themes to do with human trafficking and is not suited for younger audiences.

Editor’s Note

The crooked flats of Arondzei, the Village on the Steppe, were a series of plains carved across the northern ridge of the Alt’Rhazia Range, stacked together like neat vertical zigzags. Atop each shelf were shaggy, lush grasslands, the interweaving roots of the grass as thick as handwoven rugs, dotted here and there by small, modest homes of earth and stone, their roofs near indistinguishable from their surroundings, covered as they were in the same grass-woven sod. At a distance, the town was all but invisible, which was how the villagers liked it. 

Then, one night, the window of the old mage’s tower was illuminated by a small candle. The overgrown dwelling had been empty for decades, its stone walls heavy with dirt and snaked over with vines. Creeping weeds and climbing foliage all but obscured the front of the building from view. If not for the candle in the window, the place would be all but invisible to the undiscerning eye.

Yet, the next day, the weeds and vines were cleared away. Not long after that, a new frame was set in the doorway, and a fence went up, creating a small corral for a cadre of goats. By then it was clear to the villagers that whomever had traveled to this place had intentions to stay.

Brodin, a young man from the village, elected himself spokesman to approach the dwelling. The rest of the village huddled in a group fifteen feet away or so, muttering amongst themselves as Brodin approached the building to find out whether the new arrival was friend or foe, warmonger or deserter. Striding to the door, his back ramrod straight, Brodin knocked brusquely.

“I come to discuss your intentions in this village,” Brodin said loudly, loud enough for the others watching to hear.

The door opened. The person inside could not be seen from where the villagers stood, but after Brodin spoke, the door opened a bit wider to admit him. With a brief hesitation and backward glance at those gathered behind him, Brodin ducked his head and went in.

Not ten minutes later he came out, his face as gray and heavy as autumnal storm clouds. Straight to his own home he went, where he closed the shutters and locked the door. From the secret place above the transom, he pulled parchroot beer and drank it late into the evening. When asked the next day, he told the other villagers the new resident had the right to stay but elaborated no further. Continue reading “The Last of the Wvorgi”

Barmy Blakken and the River of Death

To find Sar’Kata, Barmy had to cross the River of Life and Death. It was a long, long journey, full of twists and turns. Barmy defeated a dozen droth, moved a naiad into a dried-up well, and saved a village from wildcats with the help of Talking Mice. But all of these are other stories for other times.

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.


The Legend of Barmy Blakken
and
the River of Life and Death

Translated from the Talshei Codex
with commentary from Borage of Freeport


Editor's Note: This folktale comes to us from the Talshei Codex, a record of folktales from the Little Folk of the Shey Lands.

The Talshei Codex was most likely composed in the Year of the Dappled Rat by the Traveler, an adventurer from Krygon whose records have long outlived their true name. The Traveler is thought to have been a bard from the Mogul's Imperial Court who was tasked with cataloging the legends of outlying parts of the fledgling Empire -- and, incidentally, rewriting them to better suit the Mogul’s political aims. The Codex therefore takes a condescending Imperial view of the Little Folk that would be considered offensive in cosmopolitan academic contexts today.

The Codex is an unreliable resource for earnest academic discussion of Sheyn folklore, but is quite a revealing look at the political and spiritual views common in the early Empire. Any student of Krygon’s recent history should be aware of the Codex -- and the other works like it.


Very, very long ago, when fleas were barbers and sheyn-goats learned to smoke, there was a little yurt-village on the west slope of nowhere. The village had goats; the village had goatherds.

And the village had its idiot, one Barmy Blakken. (1)

Barmy Blakken was a goatherder, son of a goatherder, grandson of a goatherder. Not a single branch of his family tree had ever grown towards anything more.

But one day, his folks took their goats to Stormvale, the biggest city Barmy had ever seen, and in Stormvale, the Market Street was roped off. A crowd of Big Folks gathered round it, thick as plaster.

"Momma," Barmy said, "what's all that for?"

"There's a parade, Barmy," his momma said. "Pay it no mind."

A trumpet bleated, and a carriage passed through the empty street. A carriage made of shiny gold, and inside was a maiden: a Big Folk maiden with long, black hair and skin as dark as the night sky.

She was the most beautiful woman Barmy had ever seen, and he couldn't help but stare.

"Momma," Barmy said, "I'm gonna marry that girl."

"Like nuts you are, you idiot," his momma said. "That's the Princess of Tarith. You ain't never gonna speak to her."

"Yes, Momma," Barmy said.

"Now hurry up, come help me with the goats," his momma said.

Barmy didn't want to help with the goats. Barmy wanted to follow the Princess and ask her for her hand. So, he helped with the goats, but late that night, he snuck off to the Palace. He climbed up its stepped terraces, pulling himself up brick by brick, until he reached the highest room and the tallest terrace. (2)

A light shone through the window. Barmy had to stand on tiptoe to get a glance inside.

He saw the Princess brushing out her long dark hair. He reached up high as he could and tapped on the frame.

"Who's there?" the Princess said. She looked out the window, but didn't see a soul.

"Down here, Princess!" Barmy said. He waved, so hard he wobbled.

"Oh? What do you want, Little One?" the Princess said.

"I've come... to ask... for your hand... in marriage," Barmy said, trying to keep his balance.

"You asked me?" The Princess raised her perfect eyebrows.

"If you're wanting," Barmy said. "My momma has the biggest goat herd in the village. I could treat you right."

The Princess laughed, covering her rosebud mouth.  

"How... sweet of you," she said, "but my father won't allow it."

"Your father?" Barmy blinked. "What's he got to do with the price of goats?"

"If you want to marry me," the Princess said, "you have to ask my father for my hand. And he thinks no man is good enough for me, not in all of Talmenor."

"Well, that's dumb," Barmy said.

 


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The Black Blade

“You moron! Never do that again!” yelled the captain. He approached Percy, yet as he put his hand on Percy’s shoulder, he was taken aback by what he found. Percy was standing stiff, but he was not alive. His throat had been bitten out. 

The Black Blade

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.


 Our story today begins in the market square of Rivermeet. On the board present in the square, we find a posting by the captain of the guard. It reads as follows:

The bailiff requires brave and capable adventures to investigate and inquire into rumors about strange noises emanating from the sewers below the city. Furthermore, in recent days there have also been reports of disappearances from the slums. We are unsure if these two events are connected.

A party is to be formed on the first day of the following week. Any adventurers who sign up will be awarded a gold coin for their services, with further compensation when the task is completed, based on the arduousness of the endeavor.

Signed,
The Captain of the Guard

Even among the hustle and the bustle of the busy market square, a pair of prying eyes spied the posting. The eyes belonged to Vivian, an aspiring medicine woman. 

She had recently finished her apprenticeship under her master, Dalaran, and was looking for an opportunity to test her knowledge. And, as most youths are, she was willing to potentially risk her life if it meant that she could gain some renown from her exploits. So, she decided to take up the captain’s offer. Even though she had no prior experience with adventures, Vivian understood that every party needs a healer, no matter the circumstances. It was better to have one and not need it, than not have one present when you needed it the most. Continue reading “The Black Blade”

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…

By Rob De Graaff

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


Captain Reylan Ceidwyd was thinking about gryphons.

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.

 


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The Sins of the Mother

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

The Sins of the Mother

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. 

 


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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.