Crosswinds: Gryphon Down

“Tell me where the gryphon is. Now!” she shouted out. Her breath started to grow heavy. Each swing, each thrust dug into heavy flesh… it took a toll on Juliette that wasn’t exclusively physical.

Crosswinds: Gryphon Down

By Penny


Despite its ornate façade, gryphon riding has always been one of the most common causes of deaths in the Tarithian army. Those brave, ignorant or desperate enough to take up such an activity often meet a grisly end, falling from hundreds of feet in the air without the need for enemy intervention. It had become a running joke among the Tarithian army: “Defeating a Tarithian footman requires a blade, a horseman a spear, but with a gryphon rider, you only need one good eye to watch the show.”

Of course, the subjects of such crude and morbid humor have not been blind to the dangers of their profession; gryphons have been fitted with equipment so their riders are firmly seated upon them, and the riders are extensively trained to avoid accidents. These measures kept overzealous riders from doing all sorts of tricks and twirls that might otherwise become the last bit of theatre in their lives.

However, as with all things human, there are always certain outliers.

Above Tarith’s forests flew a squadron of gryphon riders, the courier bags on their hips full of written orders for the officers on the front lines. Everyone was shrouded in anxious anticipation; as the war with the Krygons dragged on, horror stories from the front lines started to trickle back home. Bands of akor’mari, branded as killers and savages, stalked the night, their gray skin blending into the shadows, their red eyes gleaming in the dark, their hair as pale as the First Daughter moon – save for the strands drenched in the blood of Tarithian soldiers.

But right now, for better or worse, these boogeymen were the least of the riders’ concerns. One was a woman, whose frame was too small for the large gryphon she was riding on. Her feet couldn’t even reach where the stirrups were supposed to be, but even if they could, her gryphon was fitted with none, anyway. All it wore was a saddle, reins and body armor. The sight unnerved everyone; lack of proper flying gear was usually a death sentence, but this woman was an outlier, thriving in the skies far more than any of the riders.

“Hey, Juliette…” one of them called out to her. “Aren’t you scared of ending up being another one of the army’s safety stories? You’re barely wearing any gear at all!”

“Huh!” Juliette scoffed. “We’ve been over this again and again. If I was going to end up like that, it would’ve happened already, but I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“Still…! Continue reading “Crosswinds: Gryphon Down”

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 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”

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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