The contest will be judged by three different authors every month. The entries must not exceed a 300 word limit (not counting the title), and must feature the two monthly selected key-words (The keywords will be related to fantasy events of the said month). You can submit your entries to flashfic(at)booknest.eu, as a simple text (no attached file), and with the title "Flash Fiction [month]" . We will accept a maximum of 60 entries every month. At the end of the month, the entries will be split and randomly allocated among the three judges, with each one of them selecting the best entry among their bunch as a semi-finalist. The judges will then proceed to read, rate, and give feedback to all 3 semi-finalists, picking a winner in the process.
There will be two different awards for the winners. The first one will be the feedback they will receive from 3 talented and well-established authors. The second award will be 3 different physical copies (hardcovers when available), one from each judge (shipped anywhere in the world).
You won't receive any notifications or replies when you submit your entry. If we don't upload your entry BELOW within 72 hours, then you contact us about it, but not sooner. Once your entry is submitted you can't make any changes, so check it over twice before emailing us.
PS: The first month will be a test for us. If there is demand, we will keep doing it every month. If there isn't, we may change it into a bimonthly or quarterly feature.
MONTHLY FLASH FICTION CONTEST: OCTOBER 2017
DATE: 18th September - 31st October
Since this is our first attempt, we will start October's contest a little earlier, giving you a few extra days.
"Black" and "wing", to celebrate the US release of Blackwing (The Raven's Mark #1) by Ed McDonald
#01: Tears for the Betrayer by Travis Gaudin Anderson
She drifted from the brackish marsh like a sculpture of living tar, the water turned to black, bubbling ink around her. Night's breeze sank fang deep into my bones, my eyes wide for what I summoned. Fear and ecstasy warred in the tightness of my chest as I watched my work undulate.
"Are you mine?" I breathed.
I held tight to the crow feather between my sweaty palms, both key and seal to this outlawed ritual. Demons were never meant to traverse the mortal plane. Shackling an Angel proved too much for most, fatal for all. To call a Betrayer and bind it to your soul? I had done something beyond foolish. But done it was.
Sludge dripped from the creature as she stepped from her entrance to this world, streaks of dark muck harsh against her bone-white flesh. A single wing stretched out from her back as she drew closer to me, its feathers a tattered imitation of the one I clutched in terrified reverence. The portal between our worlds closed once the Betrayer solidified before me, hands and taloned feet stained black like a scribe's fingertips.
A ghostly harpy, eyes as red and sharp as the bloody grin across her face.
When she wrapped her only avian limb around me I bowed my head. I shivered. The breeze had died.
"Are...are you m-mine?"
She pulled me close, a friend's embrace. Clawed fingers rested gently against the back of my head. Tears came unbidden.
"I am yours." Her voice was a vengeful fire, charred and angry. "Until our work is done." A sharp pinch lifted my chin. I opened my eyes. A pair of blood moons stared back at me.
"After, you are mine."
The marsh was quiet then, all but for the hitching of my sobs.
#02: When They Come by Dylan Harman
Tiny arms gripped Heidi's legs, tinier fingers clung to her filthy dress. Damp crept along her neck and back, she braced herself against the cellar wall though the distance would save her but seconds when they came. She pressed against it harder still.
Tom had been the first to go. An argument would be their final words to each other. He'd drunkenly swaggered himself to a window, opened it with a triumphant smirk.
"You don't want leaf smoke in the house?" He had said. No biting retort to rekindle his ire. Nor obedience to her roiling temper. She had sighed. As did the draft of spring air, that prickling cold carried in from the night.
So quickly they had come.
A writhing black mass of things poured through. They contorted their shells to fit through the window. Tore an arm or wing from each other, just to be the first to taste Tom's blood. The cacophony of hungry chitter sent her reeling for the cellar, it awakened a primal instinct that seized her throat. A sound thatpierced a primal fear until it was the silence she could not stand.
Tiny fingers, raspy breaths and shuffling feet below.
Heavy steps, steady gait.
The latch to the cellar lurched and blinding yellow warmth revealed the quaint hiding place. An armoured figured stepped down towards her, the lantern casting light over the sword he carried and the tiny faces Heidi could not protect if she wanted to.
"Strip down. I need to see." The voice hollow from the helmet.
Quickly they exposed themselves.
Again, something primal seized Heidi by the throat, as the soldier halted in front of the tiny girl gripping her dress.
The girl with a harsh wound dripping black blood across her feet.
#03: Lament in the Shadows by K.S. Vilosso
Run. Run far. Run fast.
The words pounded through her head as she tore down the dark alley, heart threatening to climb up her throat and choke her senseless. Her knees shook. They were gashed, still bleeding and streaked with mud from when she had slipped earlier. Her clothes smelled like gutter water. This was not a part of the city the mages cleaned, not even important enough for them to visit. Why would they want her dead?
She heard the man whistling for her like she was nothing but a stray pup. Revulsion stirred in the back of her throat. One more step, hands scraping along grime so thick they gathered under her fingernails, and then she found herself underneath a dripping rooftop.
"Come out, child! You've got nothing to fear!"
Like she'd believe that. She'd heard the things they did to children like her—she'd sooner kill herself. As she came around the corner, her shoe dislodged a rock, which clattered against the fence. The sound startled a group of crows nesting under the eaves. They scattered into the sky in a sea of black wings.
"Got you!" The man jumped, reaching for her from behind the fence. His calloused hands gripped her bare arm, twisting it.
He must've been expecting her to scream. She didn't. She stared back at him quietly, almost calmly. The sneer on his face died.
"Are you alone?" she asked.
He stared at her in shock. It was a good enough answer. Her other hand came up to grab his wrist. The man's eyes widened as the cold fire exploded between them and his skin shattered like glass. He screamed, toppling back behind the fence. She fled before his companions could reach him.
Run. Run far. Run fast.
If only they knew.
#04: Buyer's Remorse by Quenby Olson
I didn't expect to see him on my doorstep.
"All sales are final," I said, shutting the door in his face.
"Wait!" He shoved a booted foot in the gap, the oak slab crushing his toes. "I only want to talk."
I opened the door, releasing his foot back to him.
I shook my head. "You gave up permission to call me that."
He sighed. "Miss Delaney."
"... is fake," I interrupted him. "I told you. Some herbs and spices. A dash of honey to make it go down smoothly. At the most, it might cure your bad breath."
"It wasn't for me." He lowered his chin. "She wanted it, thought it might strengthen our love."
"She's a fool."
"You're a fool," I added. "Go home. Back to your lovely house and lovely girl and all the riches she's brought you."
"Moira," he repeated. "I'm sorry."
My hand went to the latch. "Go home, Finn."
"I should've never left you," he whispered. "But I couldn't stand to be poor anymore, to toil and slog my way through life."
I nodded along with his words. "And I gave you nothing," I said. "Except everything I had."
"You mix concoctions." His lip curled upwards. "You've no real power, no skill with charms. And I was to work my fingers to the bone, for both of us?"
"You're right." I looked down, a study in penitence. "I've no skill with charms."
A whisper from my lips, and he diminished. A plop on the doorstep, and there he sat, all soft black feathers and pointed beak and two small wings.
"No skill with charms at all." I scooped up the bird. "But that was transfiguration. And if you were smart, you would've learned to tell the difference."
#05: Flies will lay their eggs by Luke E.T. Hindmarsh
I stared at it. Watched it crawl across Prior Thresten's eye and down his slack, mottled jowls. Saw it rubbing its black legs together -- in front, in back. Realised the dirty thing was cleaning itself. Washing before it ate, before it scuttled into the Prior's gaping mouth, and disappeared from my view. That caught me. Made me turn to the corner and bring up the remnants of the meal I'd eaten not an hour before -- the wine that had tasted so sweet now soured in my stomach and the flavour of the pheasant all too close to the taste of rotting flesh. Soon the Prior's flesh, corrupted already by his sin and rancid with sweat, would putrefy and run within his sack of skin until it ruptured and his vileness poured out for all the world to see. A traitor part of my mind wondered if he would taste as gamey as the pheasant, and that brought a fresh surge of bile from my aching stomach.
I spat a mouthful over the prior's face. The fly fled his mouth, wings a-burring.
From outside, I could hear the chanting of the faithful drawing near for the Solstice service. My Brothers sang Hymnals to the Six Sons and the lone pure voice of a maiden rose, praising our Lady of Summer. I was forever cursed in Her eyes now. The Prior's sin did not spare mine. Wincing at the burning pain between my buttocks, I got to my feet. My hands sparked with numbness so that I almost dropped the carving knife, still slick with heart-blood. Tearing the hood from my habit, I swept into it what silverware I could and ran out the back way. How long before they searched the refectory? How long before the hunt began?
#06: Untitled by Henry Williams
"Be brave, men! This is our hour! Here, we will make our stand!"
The hero finished his speech with a flourish and filtered back through the ranks to safety.
Gert felt it was much easier to be brave if you had a horse, a nice shiny suit of armour and a whacking great sword. He lent wearily on his pitchfork; flicked mud off the handle. If he somehow survived this his wife would have strong words about accepting beer from recruiting officers.
Black John's army advanced steadily on their position. The front ranks wielding mean looking pikes. Gert surveyed the frightened farmers either side of him. Why were they literally the only people on this fucking battlefield who didn't have decent weapons?
Hold on a minute. The hero was yelling something from far behind them.
Midway through their half hearted, mud-slick stumble towards oblivion, Gert heard a feral roar. The beat of a colossal wing. He decided this was a good moment to fall over and pretend to be dead.
Black John's army was completely incinerated by the passing dragon. As it wheeled round it spied something very, very shiny in the distance. The hero. It was the shiniest thing the dragon had seen in simply ages. It had to have it. The farmers cheered as it ate the elite guard, plucked the hero from his mount and faded into the distance.
Gert dragged himself out of the mud; took the reigns of the now riderless horse. And would you look at that, the hero had dropped his lovely sword.
#07: Space 1979|Wing Nite by Timothy Eisenacher
"That's a good spot, between those two transports."
Slowly the Black Phoenix moves from cruise to a near vertical descent. The landing gear deploy as the afterburners slow to a stop. The explosive rhythmic roar gives way to a whine that descends in pitch until it in turn gives way to the pings of shrinking metal. The radiation shield fades out and a young girl approaches the ship. She's short, petite, and not at all in appropriate dress for the conditions at the transport stop. She has a oversized denim jacket draped over her that is clearly not her's. As she pushes back a bit of brightly colored hair from in front of her face she attempts to address Melvin through the open pilot's side window but he interrupts her.
"I'm sorry honey but we're not into that sort of thing."
"We're just stopping for fuel, we aren't looking for a good time. Try that guy over there that looks like he hasn't eaten a vegetable in the last decade."
"No... No, I'm not that kinda girl! I'm lost. I'm not sure where or even when I am."
"It's 1979 honey, Carter is president of that dump they call Earth and this here is a refuel station for interplanetary modular freight transports."
"I'm still not sure what's going on. He just left me here, I've got no clue how to get back."
Ralph leans in, "don't mind sourpuss here, we're about to get wings and beer. This place is pretty busy, we have to que for refuel and flight inspection, so we'll be here awhile. You can join us if you like."
"Thanks, my name is Psarah by the way. Please tell me it's chicken wings that they serve here. I've had a pretty strange day."
#08: The Republic Reclaimed by Allan Bishop
Rome is ours once more. My cohort, almost five hundred men and women of our proud blood, East and West, stands ready in the black powder haze of the battle’s aftermath. Rhinelanders, the old Goths and Germanians, lie wounded, dying, or already dead. Black smoke billows from the grenadiers’ flintlocks, their third rifles prepared in case of a second wave. None of us have ever lived in the Fatherland.
The feathery winged Amazons, empowered by Minerva’s ma…no, her twisted experiments, contort in pain. A sudden ripple echoes through my mind. I can hear the Salt Mother singing in the deep sea, crying out for someone to release her from her torment. She's too far away but I know her pain. A pain that lurks in all her descendants.
“Marcus, we’ve accounted for all our dead and the enemy’s,” Centurion Justinia says.
Justinia is a shrewd woman, always watching and listening. Always listening. She’s one of the few battlemages of the Nameless Legion, her black plated lamellar draped in the blood of divines and mortals. I place my hand on her shoulder, sweet Justinia, don’t look at me like that.
“Good. Round up the survivors and provide aid to them.” I point to the winged women.
They’re girls, not women. Fourteen to eighteen at most. An Ascendancy cruiser, refurbished from Lemurian remains, flies overhead with the rest of the Legion inside. Clean up for patrols, more Rhinelander bands to whittle down.
I walk over to one girl, while Justinia tends to our logistics. Hazel eyes, dark curls, sinewy flesh, but a pain in her eyes. Her wings are burnt, her skin cut. I cradle her in my arms, whispering it will be alright.
The Empire is dead.
The Republic lives.
#09: Real Eyes by Julie Midnight
He always visited Bess deep in the night, when she couldn't see him proper. Nothing strange about his shame; even in a grubby gold mining settlement like Old Hoecake, visitors avoided her in daylight.
But only this one came as a raven, wings silent while swooping through the window and rising from the shadows as a man. Just near enough to the candlelight for the gold in his hand to glitter.
"What does a beast care about showing himself to a whore?" she said, once, breathless as he sucked the rouge off her nipples.
"What do you care about a man as good as faceless to you?"
"You'll see me at my truest."
Then his teeth rasped against her breast, and she laughed. His dangerous teasing always felt different from a man too drunk or angry to hold back. She liked it.
She wasn't laughing a few weeks later at the hands around her throat, their owner a trapper who'd visited before. He reeked of moonshine while she choked and fought, vision swimming black.
Then new blackness exploded as feathers, and she could breathe again. See again. The raven's claws dug into the man's beard, beak swiftly stabbing at eyes and plucking them free.
Later, she knelt by the body as the raven stood before her a man, just like in nights past. But now daylight burnished his lean face as he said, "I often eat more than that."
Each word fell heavy as a stone—a challenge to Bess to turn away. To cower.
Instead, she reached out for his empty hands, voice still hoarse. "I know what you look like, now. It hasn't changed my mind any."
And this time, he sucked at the bruises on her skin even as she kissed the blood from his.
#10: Tendril Wants a Fight by Rosalyn Kelly
"Knew he'd fucking wing it." Old Gregor claps me on the back.
He believes in me. But the others don't. Sceptical sneers flit from face to face. Captain Jurgen spits chunky phlegm on the rock. It slimes down into the settling dust, the trail gleams in the flickering torchlight.
I pull my trembling knees to my chest. Men tramp around me in the cramped space preparing to move deeper into the mountain.
I'm the smallest, the newest recruit, so I had gone first into the dark. To clear the path. Gregor had pleaded to save my skin. But the Captain ignored the old man and set his formidable jaw, his glare skewering me.
I had squeezed through the scrap of air between two boulders that blocked our path, the only way into the belly of the beast, to the centuries-old, coveted prize that waited us there. The prize Queen Charlotte will pay handsomely for.
The biting rock tore strips off my clothes and spat me into a cavernous hollow, where the guardian creature waited. The moving shadows, the sludge, the black wisps that take the form of a man. Tendril.
I drew my sword. My arm quivered violently, betraying my fear.
Tendril sized me up, chuckling. "Are there more?"
I nodded, clenched my arse cheeks.
With two swirling arms, Tendril shifted the boulder, and then sank into the shadows. "Haven't had a good fight for years."
I had stumbled back and slumped, mute, near Old Gregor's legs. The soldiers all saw the boulder move. Legend tells that the way is cleared only when Tendril is defeated.
But Tendril isn't dead.
I should tell Jurgen, but I don't. I let them pass before me, resting a halting palm on Gregor's shin. I scheme. And set my mind to the Queen's reward.
#11: Fire, Flesh's Fane by J.A. Beaumont
Yshlii tread over skulls larger than horses. One that dwarfed a house loomed over her, and her hands trembled. Even a goddess shivered here.
Emerald lights pierced the black sky, the mountains a crown of shadows over the graveyard of her failed creations. They had been meager things—not the firebreathers or sky-weavers she intended. All she knew of the south's scaled ones told her that the frozen north would be the best place for animals with suns for hearts, yet her spark had been too strong, her hate too potent.
She regarded her outstretched hand. Was it doubt that now choked her immortal breath, cooled her craving? Creating a being worthy of her anger proved harder with every sunset and moonrise. Perhaps her vengeance upon the spurning, sprawling humans had to wait until greater gods gave her leave. Perhaps the blaze within her was too much for mortal frames.
Yshlii snarled. Smoke billowed from her nostrils. Ice winds stilled her hand, but the heat within her leeched out the cold. Tendrils of flame sprouted from her fingers as they had with every creature she had wrought.
Her words came. "Hasten cinder to sunder bone, to witness wrath and worlds o'erthrown."
The fire danced to her will and spread over the huge skeleton. It cracked under the heat, threatening to splinter entirely like all the others. The monster's eyes became a furnace, and Yshlii closed hers.
New words burned. "Eternal flame be mortal's bane. Infernal will be flesh's fane."
Bones crumbled, but in their place, Yshlii's fury remained. She clenched her fist, and the inferno became teeth, muscle, flesh, wings. She let silence fall. A breathless moment passed.
The beast stirred, and the world shuddered.
#12: Soulfeather by Tara Saunders
Shay watched the small black feather slip from underneath the girl's tunic.
It floated gently, the light breeze protecting it so that nobody could know where it had come from. But Shay knew. He chased it with hands earthbound and clumsy against its joyful peregrination.
When it rested finally in Shay's palm, he felt its joy leak away through his flesh and into his bones. It weighted him, this tiny curl of black fluff, dark as the tar that stuck to Uncle's boots his turn came to work outside the walls. Heavy as Uncle's mood those long nights after.
Soulfeather. Black soulfeather. Death in his grasp.
"Where did you find it?" The girl stood in front of him, her eyes squeezed to tight slits.
Shay knew her, just like he knew every one of the few they'd evacuated. Her family was housed in the North Wing of the castle with the other engineers. Shay had seen them that first day, when he was assigned to carry an endless flow of boxes and cartons for the worthiest arrivals.
He and Uncle carried their own small bags. Nobody waited to find them a place, so they made their own in a corner of the bailey. Uncle worried about Shay every time they made him work outside the walls. Shay pretended he didn't, but he worried too.
So far, Uncle had always come back.
He closed his hand around the feather and stretched it towards the girl. It belonged to her, that tiny curl of hope and death.
Her fingers were warm and soft as she took it from him. "Will you tell?"
Shay slipped his sleeve up to his elbow. He allowed his scales to glitter an iridescent, jewelled green before shifting them back to match his skin.
The girl smiled.
#13: Home by Simon Barr
The breeze felt cool on the sun-scorched flesh of his exposed face and arms. Cool and soothing. A brief respite. A moment of kindness on an otherwise pitiless day. The battle was not an hour gone, and already the carrion feeders were about their foul business, the tips of their wings dipped in the blood of the fallen.
How had it come to this? Why had so many needed to perish? Had the king's heart become so black and stained by vengeance that he would lay waste to his own kingdom? The tattered remains of the banners fluttering among the dead told him the answer. There was nothing the king would not do. No deed too evil, no life too precious.
He dropped to his knees, his battered blade sliding from his grasp. What had begun as a minor skirmish had quickly manifested into four days of brutal fighting, reinforcements pouring in like raging rapids after a winter thaw. Two mighty armies led by two all-powerful madmen, and neither side had been willing to give an inch of ground. In the end, after the final blow was struck, only he and a handful under his command had survived.
He squeezed his eyes shut, the sensation of dried blood flaking away as he clenched his fists. He imagined the smiling face of his wife and his two young daughters. There was only one thing for him to do.
He rose to his feet, tearing away his belt as he strode west with long, deliberate strides. No more. He would leave this desolation behind. Perhaps one day he could learn to live with what he had done.
"Where are you going, commander?" called the voice of his lieutenant, who had been waiting patiently a few yards away."
#14: The Historian by Jess Golden
He steepled his fingers and regarded the three realities.
They stared back at him, spines straight, titles trim, pages demurely folded.
They were trying to look inconspicuous, as was the nature of histories like theirs. Close the cover, skip the chapter, give every do-gooder in the cosmos an excuse to believe that "we are innately good inside."
He passed his knotted hands over the books, close enough to feel the way they tensed beneath their covers. They displaced the air like death. Suffering. Three mass graves binding page-wrapped packages.
Night by Ellie Wiesel
Fallen Stars by Raje Zegareth
Phoenix by Velaria Algev
Three mostly-identical novels written by three nearly-indistinguishable people in three almost-overlapping timelines.
In the normal course of events, alternate realities appear and converge on a perpendicular. But some run parallel. And others, attracted to one another by the similarity of their histories, become as close as lovers. So close that the unlucky can wander between the Earth of WWII and the Johdell of the Fire Ages like children lost in the wing of a sprawling old house.
Intermingling realities never lived for long. He had watched enough universes die to know that when the house became too crowded, it suffocated the worlds within.
So he sat there, the heels of his hands propped in his beard, staring down the beady letters of the books by the light of the hearth. One shrank from the heat more than the others.
He burned the books with fire in their names, and kept the one with black. He turned back to his library with a sigh.
History was doomed to repeat itself.
His work was never done.
#15: Lilith by Stephen Warren
Lilith ran her hand over the rough sandstone of the balcony and sighed. Despite the beauty of the sunset which was currently letting its red glow sweep over the vast city before her, a city she administrated, she was bored.
She'd led armies, raised banners and eventually toppled the worst Emperor these lands had ever seen. These feats had earned her the praise and adulation of the people that now called her Empress, but it hadn't sated her for long. She'd revelled in her new found power at first, drinking the finest wines, dining with royalty. Every beauty and every depravity the Empire had to offer was hers to explore. It was not enough. She wanted to scratch her eyes out with the tedium of it all. Nothing was new; nothing excited her, nothing except for it.
It came nightly with whispers of adventure, of power. Black as night, hollow, the featureless apparition of a winged woman slunk through the shadows now cast across her chamber. It made its way to her Lilith's bed, where she joined it. Always the same question.
"Why did you kill the Emperor?"
She knew it would disappear, reeking of disappointment when she answered. For the good of the people, for Justice, for every worthy thought she could think... but the truth is never worthy. She stared into the darkness. On this night she told the truth.
"Because I was bored"
The monster laughed and ran a finger down Lilith's cheek, the touch causing her back to arch and her body to writhe with a power she had never known. Lilith cried accepting the unacceptable as one black wing and then another wrapped her completely in an embrace.
Boredom had toppled one monster.
It would create another.
#16: Hell Sky by Andy Graham
She was my sun. She warmed me like no other. It wasn't until she killed our child that I realised what she was.
In public, Mary was perfect. Long legs, deep love and a heart that had given a drowning mutineer a second chance. But in private?
She was passionate to the point of painful. Not a night went without both of us waking with sweaty bruises. Usually where no respectable person would think to look. She could outdrink the navy and the dead they left in their bottomless, blue-green coffin. She didn't hold with food. Not unless it was so fresh it was almost walking. She never looked for dawn. Nor did she wait for spring.
It was the hell sky she lived for: a black wing of clouds, bubbled through with crimson.
Red sky at night, Devil's delight. Red sky in morning, angels' mourning.
The hell sky heralded the silent wash of divine wings come to claim the innocent. Those fallen to the Great Deceiver in the dark. Those stained clouds were the first clue to my wife's undivine nature. The second came when the fresh food she needed could not only walk but speak.
Then she disarticulated our son like his favourite wooden toy.
The things she had given me - sanctuary, a home, family - no longer mattered. The passion that fired her had been placed there by the Devil. His desires scalded her from the inside out. To satiate His lust, she gave him our boy.
No one else believed she had killed our child. I was the criminal.
So I murdered her, perfect Mary.
"She took you in, saved you," the judge said and they nailed me to an inverted cross, under a sky that bathed the grave of my son red.
#17: Sisters by V.S. Scott
My older sister was prettier, of course, with her black hair and shiny eyes, but I was the smarter one. I was always more subtle, sneakier, content to relish the small victories rather than indulge in the large, over-blown hoo-has and celebrations she liked. For instance, that house of hers. Which house? You mean you don't know? You must have heard about it at some point. Gingerbread. In the middle of nowhere out in the woods. Children found it and killed her for it. If I warned her once, I warned her a thousand times. Don't be so obvious, I'd say. Don't let on about what you're up to. Did she listen? No – and look where it got her. She took after our cousins in Scotland; I mean, good grief, they made an entire song out of it:
"Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
Catchy – but not very secretive, you know what I'm saying. Alexander the Great, that was some of my best work; people have argued for centuries about him and they still aren't sure. That's how it's supposed to be. Quiet. Discreet. Not all hi-ho-hi-ho and poison apples. It's harder these days, of course, but if you know what you're doing no forensics in the world will catch you. A dash of tainted salt left in a restaurant; a bit good mushroom mixed with the bad; a plate of chocolate candy on the counter for co-workers.
#18: The Best in the Business by G. Connor Salter
"You can leave now or you can die. And no, I don't negotiate."
She cocked her head, sizing him up. She'd seen plenty of bodyguards in her line of work. This guy didn't fit the bill.
He was muscular, but no athlete. His black clothes were clean but very casual. No signs of weapons on him. Yet he sat on in front of the oaken doorway with a smug expression. An expression that simply said, "Give me your best shot."
She stepped forward, scratching her back with one hand. She'd received an extra-large sum for this job. One bystander wouldn't make much difference.
"What's your stake in this?" she asked. "The girl's just a trust fund baby, no one will miss her. Last I heard her daddy's a cheapskate who does sorcery in his spare time."
He smiled, folding his arms. "Actually, he's into alchemy. Interesting stuff. And I get paid fine, better than any other job I've had. You'd be surprised the fringe benefits someone can get here."
"Really. You get free dental work?"
"No. Just immortality."
"...Uh-huh." She stopped, shifting her weight from one foot to another.
"That's quite a necklace you're wearing," she commented.
He looked down, examining the silver pendant resting on his collarbone. "Yeah, got this when I started. They said it's been in their family for years. The snake's head represents death, gold wing on the left represents speed -"
Her hand whipped out the pistol. Four cracks, four hollow points tore into his chest. He didn't move.
She lowered the pistol. Almost too easy.
Then his head slowly rose.
He winced. Molten metal seeped from the holes in his shirt. Then he stood, his hands open like claws. Huge claws.
"Like I said. You could leave or die."
#19: Queen of Crows by Laila Amado
I am Jane Doe. Probably, was called something else before the accident but this memory has been taken along with all the others. Hell, I don't even remember the accident! No idea why the doctor insists on seeing me every six months. If I were to recover even one scrape of memory, I'd come running to see him myself. As it is, I travel across town to get my pulse taken by a pudgy old nurse and go back in a crammed rush hour train. A couple of soldiers push me into the path of an old beggar woman. Where are they off to in such a hurry? I press a coin into the woman's palm and flinch when she grabs my wrist:
"I take no charity, only fair exchange."
A black feather lands in my hand and she is gone, obscured by the crowd. I marvel at the feather, its dark blade so perfect, as the crowd carries me up the stairs, pushes through the gate and spits out into the empty back alley. I flinch at a sudden noise - up on the fire escape a giant crow is beating its wings. I can swear it just said:
"You have something that belongs to me."
Thinking of the beggar's words, I say:
"Fair exchange. What would you give for it?"
"What do you want?"
"My memory back."
The crow squints at me.
"Are you sure? You so wanted it gone."
"I want it back!"
The bird cackles. In my memory there is a murder of crows, there are houses burning and fields on fire, there are screams and bleeding flesh. Pain drives me to my knees and the bird says: "Welcome back, Morrigan. Someone has just started a war."
In the distance a siren wails. One, then another.
#20: Harvest by Amanda J Spedding
"In blood Skarja walks, the souls of all she's killed the great shadow at her back." Mira shouted above the storm's fury as I grabbed my scythe. "My dreams do not lie!"
Too long I'd stayed; lines appearing on my wife's face where they never would on mine. I'd run, draw Skarja away. Mira would be spared. This time, no children had I sired.
Howling winds rattled the shutters of our hut as Mira dragged me from the door. "She comes! Your name upon her lips!"
Fear for me darkened her eyes. That was why I'd loved again when I'd sworn nevermore. My kiss lingered, savouring lips I hoped would never curse my name.
"Flee, my love," I begged. "Wipe me from memory." I charged into the storm. If I could get to the mountains, if—
Skarja loomed from the maelstrom, spitting my name like venom. "Evka."
A thousand cuts glistened on her ebony skin, like lightning under the moon's touch. I knew each one. Had delivered them with hate-fuelled rage ‒ desperate for what she had that I did not. The shadow behind Skarja writhed as she gathered it to her, faces of the damned morphing into great black wings ‒ shredded and shrieking.
"Not Mira." I discarded my weapon; dropped to my knees. "Please, not my Mira."
Skarja laughed; drew me close. Wings wrapped tight tore into my flesh. "You cannot kill a god," she whispered, words we'd traded since the dawn of the world.
I screamed Mira's name as Skarja ripped out my heart, taking it as her own. Memories shattered as my twin fled into the night with the one heart we eternally shared.
In the doorway of a hut, a woman sobbed as I gathered my scythe. She, the first harvest for my great shadow.
#21: Betrayed by Daniel Olesen
Corpses littered the battlefield. With no victor, none were left to bury the dead. But one man's death is another man's breath; while the lack of burial would make the dead suffer a gruesome existence in the underworld, the birds of carrion would feast. Crows and ravens had amassed already before the battle began, knowing they would soon be fed. They had waited patiently, burdening the branches of every tree until the fighting erupted. As swords sundered, shields shattered, and spears splintered, the birds rose into the air, flying in circles above where only screams reached them. Their numbers were such that black wings blotted out the sun; the final warriors had the privilege of dying in the shade.
The moment the last man fell to the ground, weapons slipping from his hands, the black birds descended. They spread out across the blood-soaked field and began pecking. Eyes went first. The crows went exclusively for this delicacy, hopping from body to body solely to pick out the softest parts. The ravens were ravenous, however, ripping away the thinner skin from the heads of the fallen.
Hours later, most of the corpses had only hideous masks of flesh left upon their faces, yet the ravens were not satiated. They continued scouring for more. Hopping, skipping, flapping their wings briefly, they progressed efficiently. As another victim was chosen, the ravens closed in. Before consumption could began, a knife shot out and pinned the nearest bird to the ground, making the rest scramble with offended cries. The blade wielder opened one eye to stare at the raven; his other was forever closed. "Tell Odin," he croaked, "I'm not dead yet. I'm coming for him next."
Teeth broken, half-blind, countless gashes across his body, the nameless warrior rose to stagger off the battlefield.
#22: A Cruel Twist of Fate by Gavin L. Palmer
The Shika'Doran crystal shone and so did she. The wings that had burst from her back moments earlier barely bleed. The sign of
a pure soul, or so the old wives said.
Jyn didn't need anyone to tell him that the soul of San'Shara was pure, like the snow that crested the mountains to the north.
The white of the thousand feathers in her new formed wings.
Their whiteness meant she would become one of the vanguard to fight the wingless to the west. The colour of her wings meant she
was one of Sin'Dora's finest warriors.
In Jyn's heart he hoped for white wings. Maybe then San'Shara would notice him, even glance in his direction. That was the only
chance that an orphan like Jyn would have, Jyn with no eternal name like Shara, to be noticed by the daughter of the Sky King. The man that rid the Sin'Dora of the black wings.
At last, it was Jyn turn to get his wings.
Crimson would not be too bad, either.
He thought as he climbed the dais that held the crystal. Crimson wings would send him east to fight the great drakes. There was honor in that.
He placed his hand on the cold surface of the crystal, the humming from deep within the crystal invaded his body. A great pain seized him and his shoulder blades bulged then split like an overripe fruit. His wings forced themselves through the openings.
Blood dripped from them. He could see it reflected in the crystal. He could see their colour. Black. Like a starless night.
Jyn would fight no wingless and no drakes. He would fight his own people. Or, more accurately, they would fight him.
He turned to meet their silence and readied weapons.
San'Shara stared right at him.
#23: Mistakes by Lachlan Kendall
People make mistakes. That was, is and always will be the simplest fact of our lives, summarised into three words. People make mistakes. Sometimes the consequences are good, sometimes bad, sometimes so terrible the Gods dropped everything to enact their divine retribution. It isn't pretty. The Gods were vengeful beings
Angels on the other hand, were the perfect divine followers of the Gods. They did not make mistakes. They could not make mistakes. This was once a fact of life. A terrible mistake – for any act against a God was a mistake – from an angel sparked war between Gods, angels died, and the world we lived in shattered. Smouldering ruins spanned continents and the onslaught's survivors wept in fragile shelters as storms raged overhead.
Gods were immortal, unkillable, everlasting. That was also a fact. A fact the angel Micah proved false. His killed a God.
A power struggle ensued, but the Gods could not kill each other. Only Micah knew the secret, and he had disappeared. Micah, the last angel, The God Killer, took shelter at the base of a mountain. He hid from the battle of the Gods overhead. He hid from the screams his fellow angels made as they fell. Most of all, he hid from his mistake.
It was at the base of that mountain we met. I too was hiding from the war. We spoke there. We spoke of life and death, war and peace, freedom and imprisonment. We weren't that different, man and angel, following the laws of the Gods above. We spoke, and ideas festered in his head. I watched the next day as he took to the skies, his once pristine white wings, now a terrible leathery black. I realised then, as I watched the Gods bleed, I'd made a terrible mistake.
#24: The Crone's Concoction by Richard Smeeton
'Do you have the ingredients?' asked the Crone extending a hand laden with brass rings.
'Of course,' Rutger reached to his belt, removed a small pouch and placed it in the Crone's palm. She licked her lips and moved back behind her bubbling cauldron.
'Will this take long?' Rutger replied, running a hand over his bald head. The Crone's lair was hot enough but in his leather armour he would soon boil himself.
The Crone merely shook her head in reply as she opened the pouch. 'A pale bat's wing, well done,' she said pulling it out. Rutger shuddered as he remembering have to catch the damnable creature. The crone dropped the wing into the cauldron, where it made a small splash .
Next she pulled out a small pearl as black as night. She held it between forefinger and thumb and examined it with a beady eye. 'It is rather small,' she said.
'Will it do?' he said trying not to grind his teeth.
The Crone merely dropped the pearl into the cauldron and started stirring with a wooden ladle. Rutger began to sweat more as the fire seemingly rose in response to the Crone's actions. The concoction in the cauldron looked like swamp mud but gave off a pleasant smell like liquorice.
The Crone brought the ladle up and offered it to Rutger.
'Drink it. While it is potent,' she said.
Rutger took the ladle and gulped the concoction down. He struggled as it went down his throat like searing fire. Rutger swayed and felt a new wave of sweat but as he ran his hand over the top of his head something felt different. Not plain skin but ... hair. It was working. The crone took back the ladle and filled it again.
#25: Our World by Damien Muir
In our world, the sun is always shining, and nobody can die.
Those we thought lost to us came back. My own mother, dead three years, broke free from her grave. The stone cracked, the ground broke open, and a pillar of light rose from grave to sky. She stepped forward, eyes twinkling, and with a smile so bright it dulled the light behind her. She came back not as she had been—old and frail and sick—but glowing with the health of youth. My father wept to see her, and they fell to their knees as they clutched each other in a tight embrace.
Around us, the cemetery teemed with broken families made whole. Parents and children and couples laughed and cried with joy. A little girl met the mother robbed from her at birth, and the crowd cheered even as their tears fell.
Every day the dead came back to us, and we thought ourselves blessed.
But they kept coming.
The scientists said it was because our world had stopped spinning. They got that far, before they were torn from their research. The dead kept coming, and they were beyond our memory. Kings, and priests, and conquerors of old, with no respect for things such as society or tolerance.
The animals rose too. The dogs and the cats were celebrated, but then came the flies. They filled the skies, large black clouds flying on the deafening roar of buzzing wings. There were no dead for the vultures, and so they circled us instead.
There is not enough oxygen. We cut down the trees for space. We fight amongst ourselves, we cannot die, but we can suffer.
In our world, the sun is always shining, and nobody can die.
#26: Reaching for the Light by Arka Deb Banerjee
"No, please! Stop! She is a child!"
The frantic cries reached Lucinda as a muffled echo, as she knelt on the floor. She tried to raise her head, tried to get her eyes to see, her mind to think, and it all fractured again into a thousand shattered facets.
Three words. Three simple words that resounded in her mind like a crescendo. Protect the people. She had failed. Villages burnt, fields razed, thousands slaughtered, because she was not good enough, because Lucinda Magdalena, Empress of Yearth, was too weak.
"This can stop anytime. Let the Empress reveal to us the secrets of her magic, and we will stop."
That voice. So cold. So utterly devoid of all emotion.
See her power. What was there to see? How can you see a lie, a delusion?
"Lucinda! Can you hear me? Do something, anything... please!"
Do what? Had she not tried everything she knew to channel the power? That power so deadly, so corrosive, that it burnt like fire, so that she could never touch it for long enough. Yet she had still tried. And her mind had shattered. And now she felt not even the faintest whisper.
In her mind, it once again resounded: Protect the people. Only this time there was a faint echo after it. A single word. What...no...she had tri...oh.
She pushed. The facets miraculously aligned. The power flooded in and Lucinda gave herself to it, body, mind and soul.
In the ruins of the throne room, the soldiers spun to see the empress floating in the air, cloaked in light. From her back emerged great black wings that hung over her like a dark halo.
She stretched out her arms and a light burned through, disintegrating her body and dissolving the soldiers. And all was light.
#27: The Game of Souls by Travis Tippens
The game was chess, and I was playing for my soul. My adversary grinned at me from across the board, its pallid face split with a smile from beyond the grave.
"Knight to E5." I crowed in triumph as I took the black bishop. My foe's smile only grew.
"Rook to H3." It removed my pawn and placed it beside two others. "That one was your brother."
A victory here would mean my return to the land of the living, but each pawn I lost meant the loss of someone I had loved. I had the advantage now, but the toothy grin from beneath my opponent's hood was unnerving. Was defeat beyond comprehension for an angel of death?
Recklessly, I threw defense aside and sought to win as quickly as possible. Lives were on the line, and I had to risk it all to survive. To my great surprise and joy, I eventually managed to place my enemy in checkmate. A single white pawn remained on the board.
"I won! Send me back, you bastard." It was my turn to grin.
The angel of death stood, unfolding skeletal wings. Its smile vanished, a stern expression on its corpse-like face.
"You may have won the game of chess, but you lost the game of souls."
"What? I beat you!"
"The game of souls judges whether you deserve a second chance at life. In trying to save yourself, you sacrificed seven innocents." It gestured at the line of captured pawns. "Your soul is damned."
"You never explained the rules," I said in horror.
"You never asked."
The angel of death reached for the solitary pawn that adorned the board and drew it close. Beneath the hood, its grin was wider than ever
#28: Pride Before the Fall by A.R. Sheahan
Aquilious furled his wings and crouched behind the large boulder. Frustration festered as he waited and watched. At long last, the large female dragon scurried nimbly down the shear face of the cliff wall before diving into the warm sea, presumably for her supper. Finally.
Aquilious rose slowly to his feet, keeping a wary eye on the sea, the cliff, and the cave entrance located high above the surface of the sea before winging along the air currents toward the cave's mouth. Fluttering his silky wings, he hovered above the hot sandy floor and admired the large, glossy black egg that sat among the smaller sky blue eggs.
Guilt-ridden but knowing he had no choice, Aquilious hesitated before reaching for the dragon's prize egg and placing it in the padded bag slung across his chest, thus throwing the people of the Flock into war with the dragons of the Pride.
Landing on the Aerie high atop Mount Monserrat, Aquilious stood before his stern-faced council. "It is done," he said shortly, removing the black egg from his bag and placing it carefully in the specially-made incubator.
Aquilious marched onto the balcony to address his people. "The Flock did not want this war," he said, raising his voice so all could hear. "We did everything we could to avoid it. We have tried reason. We have tried diplomacy. We have tried sanctions. And yet the Pride continue to steal our eggs, our precious offspring. Now it is time to do what we must before our entire race dies out. Now the people of the Flock will stand and battle! And while the cost of our survival will be high, the survival of the Flock is worth dying for, and the result of our efforts will be glory and peace, now and forever!!"
#29: The Untold by Reagan Tippens
It had been twelve millennia since the Feasting, the final battle against the Dark Watchers. Now, the darkness trembled. The Dark Watchers were sidling out of the shadows. And my only chance of salvation was making her last stand behind my toilet.
"Theodora, I need you to be real with me. Did your fluffy ass light my Q-tips on fire?"
"Meowwww," Thea lied.
To the untrained eye, Theodora was a plump, black Persian cat. Her hobbies included sleeping, eating and (when it pleased her) snuggles. No one would suspect that this miniature despot was an Untold, an animal with elemental powers. And I was her Mage.
Most Mages had fearsome Untolds: bears, dragons, wolves. Mages trained with their Untold counterpart in preparation to fight the rising Watchers. And though the Untold were intimidating—commanding the wind, earth, and sea—none had power over the most formidable element, fire. None, but my cat.
I glared as she jumped on my bathroom counter.
"Thea, look at me, you will live on the streets if you light up. One. More. Thing." She considered me, and then the toilet paper sitting on the counter.
"Do it, I dare you." Having the fire extinguisher aimed and having practiced on burning Q-Tips earlier, I felt I stood a chance.
She lifted one paw up, her paw pads glowing.
She is a cute asshole, I thought to myself. She swatted the toilet paper down. I watched in horror as it rolled into my bedroom, leaving a trail of flame in its wake.
Thea skipped from the counter and bounded onto the bed, looking like the charming devil she was. Flames rose around her.
I moaned, resigned to call the Wing County fire department. Again. Thea curled into the pillows and drifted to sleep, flames drifting with her.
#30: Untitled by João Eira
There's claws tearing through the walls, the screeching sound flooding the whole ship. I jumped from bed when the alarms started, my head already ringing from the sound. I tried to find from where it came but the feeds came all black. How is the whole system down? I needed to get out, fast. Standard protocol, too valuable to risk losing. I ran like hell for the escape pod but it was of no use. It had been destroyed. This was planned for I now realize. Whatever's out there, it's out to get me.
Regulation forbids me from bringing firearms into the ship. Whom would you use it against? they say. The hell with them and their rules, know no other deep space diver worth their wings who doesn't bring some with them. It's the endless black of space, I think. It screws with our minds. The loneliness too. We begin conjuring up monsters so desperate are we for companionship. Need those guns to fell safe.
Whatever's out there, it can't be far. The ship ain't that big. Couldn't put two persons in here without them bumping into each other sooner rather than later. That shredding sound, it's getting closer. I can feel the ground shaking as it comes closer.
thump - scriiiiii - thump - scriiiiii - THUMP - SCRIIIIIII
It's right in front of me. Sweet mother of...
It looks straight at me and I freeze. I would unload the clip into the beast but what use are bullets against monsters such as this?
Private Jason Wheeler, 45th Squadron, 2nd Division. Status: Unfit for Duty. Cause: Hallucinations
Hallucinations? That's what you're going for?
He is hallucinating Commander. Thinks we're both some kind of monster.
Hallucinations don't tear a whole ship apart.
No. Indeed they don't.
#31: Legacy by Devin Madson
The skin resists at first, only to tear under the insistent sawing of the serrated blade. Blood leaks, smearing the birthmark, but covering it is not enough. He knows. He's tried.
"My lord?" Screams spill in around the physician, his face made black by shadows.
But the man does not look up. He keeps cutting. "You said it would be a boy."
The door closes and the screams ebb to a gentle keening, but no door can stop her pain from clogging the air, no door can stop the power of the curse.
The marked skin flaps off like a wing revealing bloody flesh below. One last slice and it is free, discarded like meat to the fire. It sizzles. Blackens. Shrivels. And for a moment of hope more painful than the hacking of his flesh he thinks it has worked.
Silence falls over the house. But it is a silence devoid of life. Devoid of cries. Devoid of soul.
From the door the physician clears his throat. "I'm afraid neither made it, my lord," he says, screwing up his nose at the stink of burning skin. "It was—"
"A girl," the man says, and upon his wrist the birthmark is already reappearing, darkening the mangled flesh.
And from his hiding place in the tattered curtains a boy watches. A boy who can feel the growing emptiness like a gaping maw in his heart. A boy who won't accept for a long time what has happened this night. A boy who cannot drag his gaze from the slow drip of his father's blood, while in the darkness his fingers find his own birthmark. His own curse.
#32: The Higher Powers Chapter 40: The End is Near by Warren L. Deans
It wasn't supposed to end this way but she was ready to make a stand. Muffled sounds behind the door gave way to her being alert and ready to fight to her last breath. The door opens as three guards rush in to assume a battle-ready position, a stance that certainly didn't impress her. The hidden smile she gave spoke volumes as to how she could cut them all down without breaking a sweat. The Lightstone around her neck which always glowed softly suddenly turned dark which only meant one thing.
"At last we finally meet." A voice spoke out. "You made our coming together such a memorable event, so much so that many died to make it happen."
She took a deep breath as the voice spoke again.
"Do I have the pleasure of addressing the Lady Inaisha Yasin, Paladin of The First Light who is known as Silverwing?"
She finally turns to face the voice who stands at the open door "You do, sir. I can guess that I'm speaking with The Black Goblin himself, Lord Malcolm Bennett, Knight of The Obsidian Sanctum."
"You know what's about to happen, don't you" Lord Malcolm smiled
"Killing me will change nothing." Lady Inaisha shot back not taking her eyes off her foe "This two-thousand-year war of ours will come to an end soon."
"How do you mean? Your Order..."
"The Darkness within The Farplains is set to overtake us all." She interrupts, "If they unleash their full might against us, the human race will be extinct."
"As I understand it, this conflict only concerns the Immortals." Lord Malcolm said. "We have long steered away from their never-ending battles. Only they are equipped to deal the with the evil that dwells there."
#33: Untitled by Paul Lavender
Pock tossed and turned under the thin blanket. He KNEW it had been a mistake to eat those three-day old chicken WINGS. The dream he was having had sent him to a galaxy, far, far away…
Here, he was Hand Solo one of the leaders of the rebel alliance and he was here to rescue Princess Lay-Low, who had been captured by the nefarious Deaf Mater. The plan he had concocted to get aboard the villains’ death sphere had worked so far and he found himself outside the cell in which the princess was incarcerated.
Taking his glowing energy sword out of its sheath he easily cut through the ten-inch-thick door.
Princes Lay-Low was calmly sat on the bed.
‘Hurry Princess! Before…’
‘It’s a trap.’
‘They knew a high-ranking officer of the rebellion would come for me, so they set a trap.’
There came the sound of marching boots from behind Hand and he turned to face the foe.
A dozen knights in white armour fired black laser pistols at him, the shots going wide to hit off the walls, floor and ceiling. One knight spent ten seconds lining their shot up only to have one of his friends jostle him as he pressed the trigger. The laser blast hit a pipe and steam leaked out.
Suddenly a BLACK clad figure strode through the knights, his breathing like that of a sixty a day pipeweed smoker.
Deaf Mater pulled out his laser sword and then the death sphere began to shake and quake.
Deaf Mater began to speak, ‘Poo-okk, I am your…’
Suddenly Pock was awake and back in his hovel.
‘...Brother?’ Said Cock, as he looked at him with a worried expression, his hand on Pock’s shoulder.
‘Just a dream, brother. Just a dream.’
#34: Next Time by A.M. Justice
Dry grass pricked her nape. Something buzzed her ear, the noise fading into crunches as she scooted closer to the boy. Their hair mingled, and the gnats danced through liquid air.
"A raven's wing." He aimed a long dark finger at the gracefully arching shadow.
Over the hulking mountains inched a blade and haft. The shape fattened, then spread like ink across the glittering stars. A lump swelled her throat, and she brushed at the gnats alighting on wet cheeks. A bird chirped, first herald of dawn.
The boy's fingers snagged hers. "Why are clouds black at night?"
The grass crinkled beneath her cheek. "Because the stars shine behind them. In the city, the clouds are gray at night, because the lights reflect up on them."
He scratched his nose, then clasped her hand again. "You always know the answers."
Gnats dove toward a fresh stream of tears. Her stomach felt sore and sick, like he'd kicked her. "If I did, we wouldn't be here."
Rising on an elbow, he leaned toward her. "The elders are cowards."
"It's what they've always done, always had to do."
"They should fight."
"Maybe they will next time."
Cursing, teeth bared, muscles bunching, he pried at the iron band round his ankle. Dried blood crusted her shackle and fingernails, remnants of struggles that began at sunset and ended hours ago.
Biting off a scream, the boy gave up. Gray light began to wash the stars away, revealing the tear-woven lace decorating his cheeks.
A roar shook the earth. Sulfurous stench blasted them, and they scrambled together, arms locked around ribs, hearts thudding.
Eyes squeezed shut, she buried her face in his hair. "They should have fought."
He nodded. "Next time, they will."
#35: Path Trials by S. Singleton
Solen's fingers found a groove in the rough black rock and he pulled himself up that bit further, already looking for another handhold. Below him the waves broke against the rock, almost silent from this height.
Don't look down, Amara had told him. Don't look down and don't hesitate.
But Amara had never made the climb. She had chosen Water Path, and while their trials were equally dangerous, they involved less climbing and more swimming, and Solen had discovered that in order to climb up you needed to look down, if only to find your feet for the next purchase.
The nesting grounds on Black Rock were not visible from the base and up close the greater features were lost. But by looking down he could see the sea and the dozen or so rocks that stuck out sharply from it and use them to gauge his position.
He swung to another point on the rock, his fingers trembling with the effort, and dusted some more powder on his free hand.
He had not chosen Rock Path, either. Those who did so climbed to the peak of Black Rock, and Solen didn't envy them. The peak stood out over the sea like a huge beak and the only way Rock Path was allowed to climb was by traversing the underside of the ninety degree overhang.
No, Solen had chosen Wind Path. He was to climb to the north side where the birds nested. From there he could get a flight feather from the wing of a Proud Eagle.
If he fell he would die, and if he came back without a feather, he would be a failure. A fate considered much worse. He swung to another handhold, and pulled himself up further. He would not fail.
#36: The Sea-Raven by Richard Nell
She saw a room littered with dead men and didn’t know why. The wooden-world swayed and she reached out to catch herself on a near-by table. Her hands slid across the glossy surface as if coated in oil. A red smear streaked the grain, and she fell.
“Calm, love. It’s alright. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
She looked up and saw a swaying man stooped under the only door. He spoke slow, and soothing, and showed his thick, callused hands.
“Who are you?” She startled at her own voice. “Where am I?”
The man smiled.
“I’m your friend, love. You forget things. I remind you.”
His teeth looked rotten and yellow except for where they were gold. Sweat leaked from his temples and armpits and stained his white, sleeveless shirt.
“How…how do I trust you. I don’t know you.”
She felt a tingling in her bare arms that told her to run—told her, if she wanted, she could rip out the floorboards, that she could dig a hole through the world just with her teeth.
“Because of this, love—always this.” The man opened his shirt to show a shaved chest stained black. Red eyes stared from dark feathers, straight forward as if in a challenge. Black ink wings spread like a cloak to the man’s shoulders.
She knew the symbol, but not her name. With trembling hands she looked to her own white, sleeveless shirt and found the monster splayed on her bloody flesh. The dark lines of ink ran down her neck, over her breasts, and snaked around her body.
“You’re my Raven, love,” said the man, voice warm. “You’re my captain and death and bloody terror. But there’s men coming, and an open sea. Take my hand.”
He reached for her. She took it.
#37: Sweet and Vicious by SJK
"Girls like you deserve to be alone." They shove her once more and then walk away, leaving the words echoing around her. Charlie closes her eyes; they're right. Girls like her – girls with black clothes that smell like her parents' smoke and burned out dreams – don't get girls like Elle with her pastel clothes and color coded future. Girls like Charlie don't deserve girls with halos and wings.
The scent of flowers tells Charlie that Elle's there even before she opens her eyes.
"What happened? Who was it?"
"It was nothing," Charlie keeps repeating. Nothing new, anyway. Elle purses her lips and squeezes Charlie's hand even tighter.
Charlie's avoiding another fight when she hears someone shout Elle's name. Not her. Blind with panic, she forces her way to the center, just in time to see Elle throw a picture perfect punch. The bully falls into the crowd behind them. Elle turns away, looking back to toss, "Leave my girlfriend alone," over her shoulder.
Elle beams at Charlie, who's more concerned with Elle's bloody knuckles and the few oozing scratches on her face. Charlie hurries her towards the bathroom, past the teachers ready to take them to the office. They can wait. She urges Elle to sit on the sink but can't stop herself from kissing her quickly before she grabs a paper towel and sets to work, gently dabbing the blood away.
Charlie's hands are gentle, her face intent until Elle catches her eye with a smug expression. They laugh together before Elle leans forward and gently kisses Charlie. Charlie pulls away to finish wrapping the bandage around Elle's hand. When she's done they press their foreheads together, and Charlie clutches Elle's hand as hard as she dares.
#38: The Raven and the Crow by Carson D. Jacobs
"Stay away from friends, family, and lovers."
This is the only rule I live by and it's more poignant than ever as I sit here, feeding the crows in the park. The pigeons left when I came and I was alone until I pulled some corn from my overcoat. That's when my kin swooped in from the heavens. Six, to be exact.
It's lonesome, being such an unfortunate soul. You can be surrounded by friends and family one second, and life-stealing tragedy the next. No one quite understands the steepness of the valley of pain you walk through when misfortune is your scent and tragedy is your mistress.
I was occupying a brewery one day, figuring the folks inside had already experienced enough bad luck on their own – or they were too inebriated to care – when I met her. She appeared with flowing raven hair and dark eyes. I considered her beautiful and, in the moment, forgot about my rule. I stayed around her.
She seemed unaffected by me. Only good things happened when I was with her. It was the first time in my life I considered the possibility that I wasn't some kind of bad luck charm.
Yesterday, we celebrated our thirteenth anniversary. I decided to take her to a late lunch. One in the afternoon, to be exact. Those devils with the black wings tried to warn me before we entered the car, but I didn't listen. On the way, a driver with fractured mirrors merged into my lane without warning. I slammed into his back and more than a dozen cars followed me in the wreck.
I woke up in the hospital this morning, completely unscathed. Everyone else died, including my raven lover. It seems misfortune is determined to extinguish even the greatest of lights.
#39: Sharur's Price by Alex Gurtis
The temperature had been steadily dropping as Ninurta made his way underground, yet the royal tomb felt warm. Ninurta had assumed the room would be more extensive yet all he saw was three sides painted blue and etched with golden-winged lions and a wall of black. Ninurta reached out, brushing the strange wall with his hand. It felt slick and soft like feathers.
Ninurta couldn't move fast enough as the guardian's iridescent wing sent Ninurta into the wall, revealing the body of a golden lion shaking its mane. Ninurta felt blood trickle down his shoulder as his torch clatter to the ground, extinguished.
"A sacrifice for Enlil?" the Guardian's voice echoed.
"No, well yes. I am here for Enlil's mace," Ninurta replied his heart caught in his throat. He had heard the stories as a child, but nothing had prepared him for this.
The beast bent its head for a moment before replying. "What makes you of non-royal blood, think you are worthy of the mace, Sharur, smasher of thousands?"
The beast's breath left Ninurta's sweat jagged icicles against his skin.
"Because I offer Asag's death to Enlil," Ninurta replied.
The beast's head rolled as its laughter warmed the confines of the room.
"Raise your sword arm and in covenant, take Enlil's blessing, that you will destroy Asag or else be Enlil's sacrifice," the guardian declared.
Ninurta's chest hurt, but it was too late to back out now. He raised his left arm, screaming as the beast's jaw clamped down on it. Falling to his knees, the warrior gasped as he gazed at his arm, tattooed with the blood drawn by the monster's teeth and his hand holding the mace Sharur. The guardian was gone.