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Temple of Mirrors

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Refreshing Fantasy setting - Editor

Temple of Mirrors

Wm. Luke Everest

On his first contract, Tzu-lung was hired to kill a famous swordsman.  Tzu-lung revered him.  General Wen had proven his greatness twenty years ago fighting the Tung Ma, a triad society.  He now lived in disgrace three day's trek from Chang An.  Tzu-lung didn't know why.  The pig-men of nobility wanted him dead.  Someone was going to kill him.  This way, Tzu-lung could meet his hero, and ensure Wen died with honor.

Tzu-lung passed the colorful fruits of the market stalls, ignoring the salesmen's shouts and the guards who flanked the gate, halberds glinting in the sun.

Yellow River extended east, wide enough it might have been an ocean.  He followed it through sopping rice fields, passed old mountains, weathered to look like musician's fingers, long and curved.  He avoided the villages, living off smoked meat in his pack, sleeping under trees and beside rocks.  When he reached General Wen's home, it rained.

It rained like Yellow River had been turned upside down.  The water seemed to freeze on his scalp.  The home was a shack of wood planks and thatch.  It rested beside a low cliff, surrounded by trees with leaves in flat clusters like wisps of cloud.  Water bounced off the wood, creating a white, hazy aura.  Yellow River lapped a mud bank nearby.  Tzu-lung planned to keep the fight near the trees.  Mud made footwork unpredictable.

No answer at the door.  Tzu-lung pushed it open.  Rain drummed the ceiling, leaked into a cooking pot and chimed like a bell.  Bookshelves overflowed along every wall.  On the table was a teapot painted with a phoenix, and half-wedged underneath it, a letter addressed to the Tung Ma.  There were two cups.  Tzu-lung drew his sword.

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My Salieri Complex

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To H.G. Wells - Editor

My Salieri Complex

An Untold Story of Griffin and Kemp

(dedicated to H.G. Wells)

by Marina Julia Neary

(University College, London, 1884)

“Awake, Samuel!  Boarding with a genius will not transform you into one.”

That was the voice of reason, one that guided me through most of my career.  Yet another voice, one of superstition and vanity, tried to persuade me of the opposite.  How I wished to believe that a fraction of Jonathan Griffin’s brilliance could project onto me if I only spent enough time in his vicinity!  I fancied our brains being like two communicating vessels, with grandiose theories and mysteries passing between them.  Little by little, that toxic swamp of self-flattering fantasies sucked me in.

Griffin, a native of Cardiff, was almost three years younger than me but only one year behind in his coursework.  He transferred to University College in the autumn of 1883, allegedly to study medicine.  I emphasize the word “allegedly”.  From the very beginning I had serious doubts that this man had any intention of treating patients for the rest of his life.  As I learned later, medicine was the profession of his father’s choice.  Griffin feigned compliance only to gain access to London’s best library and laboratory.  He took most interest in optical density and refraction index, two topics that had very little to do with medicine.

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Man Tracker

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the Coquille marshes - Editor

Man Tracker

by Kevin M. White

Arthur Bindell eased the '55 panel truck down the narrow mud strip that passed for a road near the Coquille marshes. The vehicle bounced and slid like a roller coaster car about to jump the tracks. This caused him to stab his upper lip with the tooth pick he was teething on.

“Son of a b-” he cursed as the wheel began to turn against his sweating hands. The brush to either side of the mud track seemed to press in as if waiting for him to slide from the road so it could grab the vehicle and pull it into the dense foliage.

The road dumped out into a grass clearing with gray light filtering down from above.  A number of vehicles were parked haphazardly in the clearing like toys tossed in the middle of a room.  A sheriff and about a dozen men stood around drinking coffee from thermoses or smoking cigarettes.

A low, guttural whine rose up from the darkness of the back of the panel truck and Arthur rapped the knuckles of his fist against the wire screen behind him.

“Shut up back there!” he bellowed.

The whining retreated in volume but didn't entirely cease.

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Sticker

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Dirty, bleak, and dangerous - Editor
Sticker

by Bryan Veldboom

Felix’s head snapped sideways at the sound of the conversation. Spanish always made him nervous. Doing what he did, Felix heard it a lot and it usually meant trouble. He looked over at a trio of Mexicans gathered around a high table, watching them empty their pockets to an aging waitress who forked over three shot glasses of identical brown liquor. Tequila. Even from this distance he could make out its sharp, distinctive tang. He felt a small twinge of excitement jolt up his arm, but he stuffed it down, taking a long sip off his ginger ale instead.

Slaughterhouse laborers. They had all the telltale signs, the restlessness, the empty eyes, as if their occupation were stamped upon their foreheads.

He wasn’t happy being back here. Greeley was a special kind of awful: dirty, bleak, and dangerous. The smell was the first thing you noticed, long before it was even in sight, that stink was all around you, drawing deep into your pores, as if marking you.

Back then it had given him headaches. His cousin Fabian had told him not to worry, that eventually you got used to it. But he never had, not in three long years.

Felix’s left hand moved instinctively over his missing fingers. Sticker had been his title back then. In a lot of ways, it still fit.

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Fired Up

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Better than fired down - Editor

Fired Up

by Michael Guillebeau

I only took this job to get fired, and now this, Josh thought, standing there in his cute little bank teller window wearing his straight guy oxford blue shirt and the tie with the blue diamonds, both from the church thrift store, with his hands in the air.  The two guys had come out of nowhere, no real memory of them walking in the front door to his left or maybe from the hall just inside that led to the manager’s offices, but there they were in white lab suits, pointing guns aimlessly around the bank lobby.  The tall one was doing the talking, telling them this was a robbery, as if they needed a program for that, telling them to open their cash drawers and put their hands up. The short one reached up and pushed the video camera by the door up so that it saw only the ceiling.

They started down the long row of tellers, starting at the end away from him in the big bank.  He watched them, curious about how they did it, had never seen a robbery before, at least not a big time bank robbery like this.  The tall guy was doing all the talking, but looking at the short, silent one for something.  There: that was it.  The silent one shook his head, and the tall one skipped a teller.  The silent one knew something; he’s skipping the tellers that have dye packs.

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Wyvern Master

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First master yourself - Editor

Wyvern Master

by Kristen Davis

The roar of the cheering crowd pounded in Ash’s ears. He tightened his grip on his spear. The first wyvern, the aquamarine male, lay twitching as he gasped his last breaths. Ash’s attention was on the jade-green female circling him. She bled from several minor spear-pricks. Her glittery cold eyes followed his every move.

The wyvern feinted to the right then darted for Ash’s heel with her long, snake-like neck. Her beak clacked in frustration when he dodged the crippling strike. Ash swung the knotted end of his rope, teasing her like a kitten, tempting her to pounce and expose herself. She scorned the distraction. He moved closer, one step at a time, knowing she was trying the same game on him. Lightning-quick, she bounded forward with a great roar, throwing wide her slashed wings in an attempt to startle him into fright. Ash stood his ground. A practiced hook of his wrist sent the rope’s noose end sailing over her head. She balked and twisted as it tightened around her throat. Ash snapped the rope taut and walked deliberately forward into the center of her vision. The crowd’s gasp was audible. The slightest hint of fear would trigger her predatory instincts, and he would die instantly between her teeth. But Ash had never feared a wyvern.

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Cold Steel

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Hot blood and... - Editor

Cold Steel

by David Pilling

Hasan Al-Asim, outlaw, assassin, thief for hire and currently a mercenary soldier, watched indifferently while the Duke of Slaveni was slaughtered by a howling mob of men-at-arms.

Cornered with his back to a tree, the doomed nobleman reminded Hasan of a stag at bay surrounded by a pack of hounds.  Grimy hands ripped the Duke’s pole-axe from his grasp and pitched him into the thick winter mud. Halberds, spears and axes smashed down onto his fine gilded plate armour as he struggled to rise.

The Duke’s ignoble death was the last act in a long and bitter war between the Kingdom of Salymra and Slaveni, a rebel province. Eighteen months of war, of slaughter and siege and fire, and Hasan had somehow survived with nothing worse than a few scars and a lot of difficult memories.

He had been shrewd enough to sign up for the winning side, which was why he was not one of the scattered fugitives currently being pursued through the woods while their master was butchered. Always a military blunderer, the Duke’s last mistake had been to lead his army into a forest ambush.

“Three shillings says he drowns first.” said a rough voice.

Hasan turned to its owner, a hard-faced stripling named Hungry Jock. Jock was an army scout like Hasan. Unlike Hasan he was a tough Wastelander with a casual attitude towards murder, rape and other people’s property.

“I don’t care to wager upon a man’s death.” Hasan replied quietly.

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Mythos of Blood

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Wood scraped against Theseus's leg.  He caught the wreckage as a wave pushed it into his face.  His legs shook as he stood.  The sun stung his eyes.

The shipwreck lay two thousand paces east, its smashed hull washed onto the beach where the tide would gnaw it.  A palm forest rose from the sand.  Beyond, steep crags covered in brush jutted above the thick canopy.  All was silent save for the rushing of the waves.

The sea stretched into the northern horizon.

Theseus pulled one of his legs up and stepped towards the beach.  The splash resounded over the bay.  Theseus curled like a startled cat.  He scanned the forest.  Every shadow, every shift of a leaf could be a savage denizen.  The canopy stirred.  Theseus yearned for a weapon.  A red parrot flew away and the silence returned.  He let his breathing slow, focused on the rush of the waves.  He walked in rhythm, his ankles pushed and pulled by the tide until his feet touched hot sand.

All the islands in the Mediterranean looked alike to him.  This one could be small and deserted, like the islands in Homer's tales, or there could be cannibals awaiting him under the canopy.  At least the ship's carcass was in sight so he wasn't totally lost.  He might find a weapon there.  He might even find another survivor, but he doubted it.

Poseidon had seethed the previous night.  Theseus remembered leaping from the ship when the storm toppled her.  The sea had been liquid ice.  The waves had risen around him like black giants.  That was his last memory.

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Bottle in Bordeaux

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An oenophile ordeal - Editor

Bottle in Bordeaux

by Bruce Memblatt

I am Louis Supree. I am five feet and ten inches tall. It’s no accident the vineyard I own in Bordeaux is the most successful vineyard in France. I humbly submit I have an incredible sense of smell which allows me to blend and break down the nuanced aromas of each wine to produce the highest quality vintage in the region. I’ll tell you how good my sense of smell is, my nose is insured by Lloyd’s of London. It’s true, for five million dollars. Wine is my life; I can ascertain the intensity and development of any wine in an instant. My love for wine has brought me happiness and many comforts like the exquisite home I own that overlooks the vineyard. The house is a very old house and it was built by a Duke. It’s hard to grasp how good times were in this dark hour, but I can still remember the fragrant days, the banquets, the grapes filling the fields in the sun, but you don’t want me to talk about these things. You want to know how I got here. All right, I will tell you.

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The Devil's Own

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and there were beasts... Editor

The Devil's Own

by Tom Olbert

Jeremy’s flesh crawled at the unmistakable sound of immense claws raking across the wooden roof tiles. In the midnight darkness, shadows danced across the bare wooden floor in the flickering light of an oil lantern.

His sister Alison screamed and clutched at their mother. “Hush, both of you,” their father whispered sternly, and blew out the lantern.  Jeremy crossed himself as the room went pitch black.  Alison’s scream was muffled, apparently by Mother clamping a hand over her mouth.

“Hush, child,” he heard Mother say in a quieter whisper still, terror showing in the faintest quiver of her voice.  The hair stood up on Jeremy’s neck at an ungodly sound, like a thousand snakes slithering across the roof.  And, a low, muffled clicking.  Shotgun blasts shattered the darkness.  Jeremy’s heart froze.  His father and two neighbor men were briefly illuminated in the flashes as they fired at the ceiling.  Alison’s screams intermingled with the inhuman shrieking that penetrated Jeremy’s heart.

He shut his eyes tightly and prayed.  He had the coldest feeling that no one heard.

#

At dawn’s pale light, the villagers gathered in stunned silence in the damp morning chill, around the half-devoured remains of their slaughtered animals.  “What have we done to bring this on ourselves,” old pastor Stephens said in a horror-stricken whisper, the others muttering under their breath.  “Ours has always been a God-fearing village.”

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