There was a rumour all throughout the palace that the Chevalier D’Argent was secretly a woman.
Colin Cox was, for all intents and purposes, an average college student. He woke in the mornings after nights of partying, head dull and aching, and dragged himself through his day. In classes, he paid little attention and spent more time drawing in the margins of his notebook, until he chimed back in for some bit of information he supposed might actually make it onto the midterm. He dated, though sparingly–pretty girls with long hair and high-waisted shorts, now that it was finally starting to get warm outside. He was, whether out with the people he called friends or bent over textbooks in the library, an everyman.
This was, for the most part, a very cheaply constructed persona. He strove for it, but it was a thin veneer over a past and current life that he made a special point to avoid discussing–it had lost him friends and girlfriends and scholarships alike. It made his girlfriends, who didn’t press too hard, think he was dark and mysterious; it made his friends, who hung around long enough, think he was reckless and wild. Really, all it was was a clever means by which he avoided scrutinization and pity, and ultimately terror.
At a young age, Colin learned all about hiding. His parents were the kind of parents who tried to dissuade you from hiding–there was no reason, you should be proud of being so unique and different, and anyway, they would love you no matter what, and that’s all that should matter! But the world, he learned, was not his parents. The world did not care about being unique and different, unless it was to the benefit of others; the world did not care how much pain it put someone through; the world, and the other children in it, didn’t care about suffering and sadness. And so, despite the doctors and the administrators and the agencies and the constant check-ins from case supervisors mandated by a federal court order that governed Colin and all people like him, he learned that simply being Colin–not unique or individual, and especially not strange or special–was the best for everyone involved, that keeping his head down and his voice low and his test scores mediocre was the best way to slip through the world unnoticed and unimportant.
When the water closed over Delphine’s head, she felt not fear, but anger. The sea was dark and swirling around her, and she was dazed from the impact of her body on the waves and could not right herself to find the surface again, no matter how hard she kicked her legs. She kept the air in her lungs despite wanting nothing more to let it out in a torrent of curses. Damn the storm, damn her crew, and damn herself the most for being tossed out over the prow.
Jimmy Olsen slapped his tattered passport on the table and pointed to the first page. It’s a long shot, he thought, but it might just work.
“Do you know what this says?” he asked.
Seid Suhail shook his head. Smoke eddied around his furrowed brow and collected in a thick layer beneath the trading post’s low ceiling. He bent over to examine the dog-eared page with a sceptical expression.
“It says that Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.” He smiled and pushed the passport towards Seid Suhail. It was lucky for him that the Arab trader had no way of knowing that Olsen was in the Sahara without the embassy’s knowledge or consent. “Assistance, Seid Suhail, and protection. Keid is still a British province. That means you have to help.”
Les was late because, God damn them, they’d switched the room again without proper notice, and he’d arrived seven minutes ahead of the scheduled conversation to find an empty table. Finding a secretary who knew anything took him another five minutes, and when she told him they were the next wing over and three flights up, he clenched his fist to keep from shouting in disappointment and anger. Any other attorney, client, or whole man in the whole building could have gotten there in five minutes with three to spare, and probably some of the women too. Nobody else would have had a problem.
His pace was a careful balance between moving fast and staying slow enough that he didn’t turn his walk into a comic hobble, as he knew from years of interactions with unkind passers-by that it was apparently funny to see a cripple hustle, and God damn it, he wasn’t giving anyone here more of a reason to think he was a joke than they already had. Balancing his satchel of papers under his right arm, he gripped the head of his cane so tight he could feel where the cracks in the old wood left impressions in his left palm. Down the hall he went, ignoring everyone he passed, trying not to think about the faces they might make behind his back, mockery or pity, they were two sides of the same coin, he had no time for it, he had to keep moving, damn it all, damn everything. The ancient elevator was at the far end of the hall and would deposit him another hall’s length from where he needed to be, but he was damned if he was going to give them all comedy show as he lurched his way up seventy-two steps, not counting landings, damn the architects, damn his superiors, damn gravity.
The first thing Fran saw when he rode into the keep was not the river, or the bridge, but the dogs. There were dozens of them, thick-coated white and grey beasts that could almost be wolves if not for the way so many of them stayed matched with the men in the yard, staying in pace just behind their heels. They roamed free, too; Fran passed a cluster of them tussling on the summer snow and biting at each other’s ruffs like pups. One approached him when he dismounted his horse, coming close to sniff and pace beside him. Fran’s father kept hounds for hunting, so he was familiar enough with what they wanted. He extended a hand for the dog to smell.
“Already looking to lose a hand so soon?” came a voice from beside him, just as the dog began to bare its teeth. Fran pulled his hand away and took a step back. A man approached him then, tall, with a thick red beard, wearing a heavy white furred cloak. “Kljova likes to greet our guests.” He made a quick, sharp noise and gestured at the dog, and it dipped its head and turned to lope away. “But you aren’t a guest. You’re the Garašanin boy.”
“I am,” Fran said. “My name is Franjo.” He offered up a small smile. “Fran.” The man did not smile back.
According to tradition, a bird offered to God in His shrine was to be killed by way of having its neck broken and its head twisted free of its body, but in modern times this had come to be seen as unnecessarily cruel. The current manner of sacrifice called for a hooked sakin to be pushed into the juncture between the bird’s throat and breast with a measure of precision that most laypeople were incapable of; Aryeh had been trained in it from a very young age. When he was a child, he’d felt intensely bad killing the perfect white doves the Temple bred for this purpose. The priests told him that it was good that he sympathized with the small and the helpless, because it meant he would be a good king. He could now issue the killing thrust without even having to look at the bird, and he was grateful for that.
Today, however, this was the thought that gave him pause. He checked the blade for flaws with his thumb mechanically and took up the dove that was handed to him, and even as he recited the words begging God to forgive them all for unknowing sins committed, he thought, it’s a blessing that I no longer have to look at its eyes. He stopped nearly in mid-word. He looked down at the dove in his hand. It looked back up at him, docile, knowing nothing else.
The priest at his shoulder cleared his throat. “Your Highness?” he whispered.
I came to St. Louis in April 1847 with a letter of introduction from my schoolteacher in my pocket and a rucksack slung over my shoulder. The rucksack contained all my worldly possessions, save for my savings, which were in a small pouch tucked into the lining of my coat. I had an appointment on the afternoon of the day I arrived with Edwin Thatcher, a well-established attorney in the city, and I hoped to be taken on as a trainee under his tutelage. I was nineteen years old.
by Kagamino Kage (鏡乃 影)
illustrated by quaedam
The song-weaver sang to fill up the darkness of the Chasm. She sang the old tales of the twilight twins of bygone age, of how they had devoured the sun to blackened stump; how then, mad with the fire inside them, they had fallen upon one another, limb torn from limb, bones crushing, until there was nothing left of either. In their madness, they had forgotten to eat the moon. And so the prophecies had come to naught; the world was not cast into utter darkness as foretold, but lit still by pale, inconstant flame. The sun can be seen but seldom, feeble red of a near-spent ember, no longer giver of light and warmth.
by Oh, Kami (狼)
illustrated by quaedam and sairobi
Gwydion wove his way through the gorse bushes, stepping lightly on the sparse, dewy grass. His bare feet were chilled through and caked with mud, but it was too tricky to soften his steps in moccasins, riddled as the grasses were with tricks and traps that guarded the village. He wished that he’d thought to bring them anyway, as respite from the clear March morning. The sun was still long hours from rising and the moon had sunk low and fat on the horizon. It chased him from behind as he snuck across the moors.
One of his carefully placed footfalls started a family of quail into the air. He paused, his pulse throbbing in his ears, until he could be sure that no other creatures stirred as well. Dotting the vast horizon was the herd of wapiti he had been searching for. It wasn’t the main herd, which would have been grazing closer to the village, but the lonely group of young males.