Last week I started this series of blog posts to share the interior art which I commissioned for Arcana and today I’m excited to continue that series with this, the penultimate post.
I’ve included excerpts of the stories as well as the artwork and I hope you’ll enjoy both.
All these interior illustrations are by Marge Simon.
Excerpt from “One More Song” by Eliza Chan:
After Mira closed the door the selkie shed her skin, leaving the mottled grey fur in a heap like stepped-out-of work clothes. Mira handed her one of the many robes hanging on the hat stand and kept her eyes on her blue and green rug, only catching glimpses of the woman’s bruises. There were purple marks the size of fingers on her legs and red, raised lines across her back. Mira blinked rapidly, her hands already clenched into tight fists as she tried to keep her rising anger from bursting its banks.
“How can I help you, Ms…?” Mira asked.
“Iona, just call me Iona,” the selkie said, knotting the robe tightly at her midrift. She winced visibly and her eyes darted up. Mira moved to her drinks cabinet, deliberately turning her back so the other woman didn’t have to look her in the eye.
“I need help. I, my husband, well you can see his handiwork. I asked for a divorce, I tried to go to the police. They wouldn’t take listen. Said I was only on a spousal visa so…”
Mira handed Iona the mug. She clasped her hands around the porcelain like it anchored her.
“I assume he has some leverage?”
The client nodded, tucking her hair back so Mira could see a ragged hole where her right ear should have been—a void of darkness as if that part of her had simply ceased to exist. “He cut a patch out of my skin. I can’t swim far, not out of the city at any rate, or I’ll drown.”
Excerpt from “‘Til Death is Done” by Chadwick Ginther:
It was the end of the world. This world, at least.
I’d been sent here to save it. To stop it.
And fight I had. I’d never learned the world’s name. Maybe it no longer had one; its name could’ve been lost, cut up in the Rising when the dead started to walk, and eat again.
I could save this world—every world—from what waited in the dark. I couldn’t fail. I had to show Her my gifts had found the right home. How many good people would have followed Her to Her cave? How many would’ve accepted Her gifts? How many would’ve made the Bargain.
I couldn’t say. I’d never know.
All I knew was I had. And I wouldn’t fail.
Who would’ve thought, as I got lost in the woods, I’d have stumbled into Her. Into this world, staring at the summit of Marrow Hill. There was no avoiding it. It drew the gaze like a black hole eating light. We’d been trying to take it for years.
I’d left my Sally back across an ocean of worlds, so far I couldn’t find a memory of home in the night stars. Her locket hung against my skin; a small portrait filled the silver heart. The only silver I hadn’t melted to fight the End King’s army.
Excerpt from “Vestige” by Annie Neugebauer:
Something lay on the sand. Small, maybe a foot and a half long. Slick and wet, although it was several feet from the incoming waves. Something alive.
Her eyes watered. She blinked rapidly, trying to clear the alcohol haze. She tucked the bottle back into her jacket pocket unopened. Morbid curiosity took her a few steps closer.
It squirmed. Definitely an animal.
Two more steps. She gasped. A face. The thing had a face. A little round face. A baby?
“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck me!” she muttered to herself, dropping to her knees beside it. Why had she waited so long to check? Was it dying? Who leaves a baby abandoned on the beach?
“You poor thing,” she cried, reaching to pick it up. At the last moment, she snatched back her hands. She leaned forward to get a closer look. “What the…”
She scrambled back before her brain could fully process what she’d seen. A pale face the color of the sand, but too flat. The nose didn’t protrude so much as the whole face swelled forward at the mouth. The eyes were closed.
This wasn’t a normal baby.
Excerpt from “Gift of the Kites” by Jim C. Hines:
Jesse yanked the blue nylon string, swooping his kite toward his step-father’s.
Kentaro dodged easily. “Too broad a strike,” he called, laughing. “A true fighter kite would loop around and cut your line.”
“Get him, Jesse,” cheered Jesse’s mother, sitting in the shade on one of the picnic benches.
At twelve years old, Jesse felt a mix of pride and embarrassment at her enthusiasm. Flushing, he unwrapped a bit more line, sending his kite higher. He dove again, missed, then tugged the kite in a tight turn that nearly clipped Kentaro’s kite. His mother whistled.
“Much better,” Kentaro said, grinning. He pulled his kite through a long ‘J’ in salute. “Amazing control from a plastic store-bought kite. You’re sure you have no Japanese blood?”
A shadow caught Jesse’s attention. A black rectangular kite leapt from the horizon, corkscrewing through the sky. Jesse ran toward the fence, hoping to glimpse the kite’s owner. His Superman kite followed like an obedient blue and red puppy.
“What is it?” his mother called.
Higher and higher the black kite flew. The string was invisible to Jesse’s eyes, but given the angle, the owner had to be by the highway. The wind carried exhaust fumes to Jesse’s nose.
“It’s a Buka kite,” Jesse yelled. The black fighting kite moved like no kite he had ever seen. It flew and bucked like a thing alive.
Kentaro shielded his eyes. “I see nothing.”
Jesse’s bowels grew cold, and sweat beaded his forehead.
Excerpt from “Surveying the Land” by BD Wilson:
Looking up from the parchment, Robanni frowned. They should have been able to walk to the edge of the Plains uninterrupted now. They should have been able to finish this ridiculous waste of time, abandon their trespass of the land, and return to the office. He should not be staring at his master’s bald head as Jekaar crawled around, face lowered like a bloodhound.
For the first time in almost six years of employment, Robanni had no idea what the normally predictable man was doing. His hand twitched, causing an errant mark on the clean onion-colored surface of the parchment. He stopped writing, taking his braid in hand again. The quiet rasping noise helped stop his rising nerves, calming him.
Keethanval who guards the mind, otalidiel risan. Let mind find an answer. Natef istel.
“Sire?” he said, watching the man on the ground. “Is something wrong?”
“Look at this,” Jekaar answered. “Come here and look at this. Tell me what I’m seeing.”
Robanni rubbed the braid one more time before letting it go and then tucked the sheet of parchment and the quill safely into his satchel. He knelt on the ground next to his master. For a few moments he saw nothing, and then he blinked.
“Yes, yes?” Jekaar prompted.
He took a breath. “Is the ground glowing, Sire?”
Excerpt from “Rooks” by Dan Koboldt:
For three weeks, Lord Matellan and I had watched the dark columns of smoke march steadily toward his estates. Two armies, one broken and fleeing before the other, left only devastation in their wake. It didn’t matter which army was ours. They were both headed right for us.
For three weeks, I’d cajoled and chided and cursed him to retreat to safety, with no result. He wanted to see the apple harvest through. Now the first harbinger of death and destruction had come, and faced me through the wrought-iron gate of Matellan orchards.
He wore a soldier’s uniform, but the sun had bleached it of any color. The shirt was untucked, the sleeves threadbare. I couldn’t help but notice his boots. Standard issue was a plain black boot, good leather but nothing fancy. This man wore fur-lined boots of expensive suede. Custom made, but poorly fitted—and clearly not his.
“Lookin’ for the lord ’o the orchards,” he said. His voice grated against the placid morning air, like an avalanche down the side of a mountain.
“Lord Matellan will want to know who’s calling,” I said.
“Name’s Rouch,” he said.
It fit him, somehow, a thick name for this burly ox of a man. Fever-bright eyes glinted at me above a greasy unkempt beard.
I gave his uniform a pointed glance. “Would that be Captain Rouch?” I asked him. “Lieutenant Rouch? I don’t see a badge of rank.”
He smiled, showing teeth that had yellowed like old parchment through his beard. His eyes never changed, though. “Just Rouch’ll do.”