Category: fantasy

(IP) The Horned Menace

were rumors of a creature who terrorized villages, with long, wickedly pointed
horns and eyes that glowed like flaming coals. It was vaguely humanoid in
shape, but for the claws on its hands and feet.

               But the
whispers were eventually proven true: livestock and crops were dying
mysteriously, and more than one villager had disappeared, both in town and
within the wood that kept the village hidden.

               For her
part, Flora thought that it was all stuff and nonsense; she was certain that
there was a logical explanation for all of these events, and that everyone was
just frightened of their own imaginations.

               She was
working in the pub down the street from where she lived, and all everyone would
talk about was ‘the horned menace’. The latest person to have disappeared was
the town crier, and they’d lost their news in the morning as a result.

was no real proof, but science was foreign to her fellow villagers, especially
a girl.

you have more feminine duties to attend to, Flora? Some mending, perhaps, or
needlework? Maybe you’d be better off with your mama, at least until you’re of
marrying age.

matter how many times she said that it was an education she wanted, just like a
man, she was always laughed at. Her cheeks were always burning; no one ever took
her seriously, saying that her parents had spoiled her beyond measure.

               An idea
formed in Flora’s mind: a crazy, half-formed idea that could pan out or mean
her ruin.

               A soft
voice sounded in the back of Flora’s mind. Ruined? In their eyes, you
already are. Where’s the harm in actually giving them something to talk about?


Her mind made up, Flora counted
down the seconds until the sun set, and she was relieved. Slipping a fat sack
of coins into her apron, she walked out of the building, going over the things
she needed mentally, again and again.

flint, oil, firewood, a cask of watered wine, a crust of bread, a bit of good,
salty cheese. And the heart she would harvest in order to lure the beast into
the wood, where she would kill it. She couldn’t let herself think about the

               But it
wasn’t the village’s safety that was on Flora’s mind; no, she was braving the
night for entirely selfish reasons. And anyway, it was difficult to care for
those who’d cared so little for her. She’d been sentenced as odd, strange, an
interloper. She would’ve been blind not to see it.

wanted to see if this beast was real, if the whispers of magic gone awry were
true, or if the shadows that lurked within people’s minds had somehow been
given life.

went back to the hovel that was her home, a ramshackle, decrepit affair.

Flora found herself wondering if she was going to slay the beast, all to win
the approve of people who had never wanted her.

               But her
choice had been made. She would find the truth, no matter the cost.


(WP) A Colorful Gift

happened, for the first time, the night after his twenty-fourth birthday.

first, Daniel thought that he was still drunk; there were blurred auras of
color hanging around everyone he walked past on the street, in every color he
could possibly imagine, and always in flux.

persisted all day, and it had Daniel wondering if he’d somehow lost his mind.

               It got
so bad that when he went to dinner that night with his friends, he asked them
if he was seeing the colors that floated in clouds around the other patrons.

               “Do you
see them? The colors?” He asked his friend sitting next to him, and she raised
an eyebrow.

“What do you mean, colors? Maybe
you’re just hungover from all the birthday excitement,” She looked at him
intently, as if she was searching for something in his expression.

“I swear, I’ve been seeing them all
day!” Daniel said, taking a sip of the beer she’d bought him.

“If this continues, you need to go
to the doctor. Make sure everything’s copacetic.”

Daniel frowned at her, unsure of
whether to be offended or not.

Was she calling him crazy?


Daniel made a doctor’s appointment,
and the doctor declared him healthy and sane, but he didn’t dare mention seeing
the colors. Even now, a sickly, brownish-green aura surrounded the doctor, but
nothing else betrayed his mood.

He was sent away from the doctor’s
office, declared as healthy as a twenty-four-year-old man who didn’t smoke or
drink excessively. He toyed with seeing a psychiatrist, but the last thing he
wanted was to be committed for delusions.


A Month Later

Daniel’s nerves were so frayed that
he ditched work for the third time that week, and headed to the bar. His eyes
were bloodshot, his face pale, as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. Normally, he
liked to shave once a week, but he had several weeks’ worth of five o’clock
shadow. His hands shook like he was an old man with rheumatism; the bottle
tipped, and the yeasty scent of the alcohol filled the air. He swore to
himself, and the bartender quickly went to work cleaning up the mess.

Even with all of his notes, all of his
research, he still couldn’t figure out why it had been him who’d been ‘gifted’
with the ability to see people’s emotions.

This wasn’t a gift. This was
nothing less than a curse, a massive cosmic joke that the universe was playing
on him.

He found himself wondering if there
was a way to make it stop; he’d tried alcohol and pills, but that had been
temporary. Not for the first time, he found himself wondering if he should just
bite the bullet, take matters in his own hands, and commit suicide.

He never imagined seeing so many
colors would drive him so mad he was contemplating suicide.


(WP) The Lone Monarch

hero set out for the castle at the king’s behest; he was dying and was desperate
to find his only heir a bride.

being a knight meant you didn’t get to say no, so he’d had no choice but to
take his provisions and set out for the journey.

               It had
taken him weeks to reach the castle, even with the kind townspeople who had
offered to give him a ride the rest of the way.

castle’s windows were bright with golden light, as if aglow from the inside,
and not for the first time, the hero felt a flicker of apprehension. There was
no resistance when he walked up to the castle, and found its doors wide open.
He could hear faint music, and bright laughter.

this was, he found himself wondering if he’d just wasted all of his time.

               But his
curiosity got the better of him anyway. After all, he’d come all this way.

was the harm in a little investigating?

               Of all
the things Sir Roland had expected to find, it definitely wasn’t this.


princess he’d been charged to bring to the king was already ruling the castle;
the throne beside her stood empty. She was clothed in a gown in such a dark
shade of purple that it looked black, even in the ample firelight. Beautiful
and proud, she stood up, staring at him.

are you? I am ruler of this castle, and I demand to know why you’ve come!”

Princess, my name is Sir Roland, and I’m afraid I’ve been charged with bringing
you to my king. To marry his son, you see.”

               The girl
surprised him by laughing uproariously.

               “Why on
earth would I want to marry someone I don’t even know? Does it look as though I
need a husband to you, Sir Roland?”

no, princess… But I’m afraid I have my orders.”

can try taking me against my will,” The princess retorted, smirking, “but I don’t
think you’ll have much luck. My creatures and soldiers will be on you at a mere
word from me.”

princess was a fierce, feisty little thing, in a way that threw Roland for a

               But how
could he take a girl against her will to be married?


(WP) Tithes to the Dead

Doran was named The Ghost King for the way he’d turned the tides of the war.

spirits, enraged at their death, had tried to storm the castle and possess all of
the humans inside. But Doran negotiated for peace, with but one law.

               “When a
spirit walks the land of the living, bring not pain nor plague, only gifts.”

               It turned
out, though, that the dead were often rather imaginative with their gifts.

started out simply at first: a loaf of bread, the last fruit of the harvest, a
few spare coins, a bolt of cloth. But then the offerings they gave only grew in
magnitude, given to them by emissaries both alive, dead, and somewhere in
between: precious stones that shone like bright eyes, heaping chests of
treasures, collections of bones adorned with finery, even in death.

Doran’s bride, Queen Jazira, accepted all of the offerings at his side, but she
wondered privately if this was too much, even for peace with the restless and
the dead. After all, they were royal; they had no need of such pageantry. But
she knew how much it had cost her husband, to barter for this tentative peace.

knew that nightmares from the war still haunted him; more than once, she’d
awoken to his screams, full of agony, his face cold and clammy with sweat. The
bodies of his battalion had been taken by the ghosts, vessels for his enemies,
and he could do nothing but watch while his men slaughtered each other.

revenants, the undead, all were summoned from the other side of the void, and
blood had flowed freely on both sides of the war. It had felt like the longest
two decades of Jazira’s life; she’d been sent to Doran’s court as a child,
brought up in the ways of her fiancée’s land. They’d married on the eve of her
seventeenth birthday, and the day after their wedding, her king announced that
he would be making an effort to live in peace with the spirits, on the condition
that both armies agreed to a surrender.

that mattered now more than ever; unconsciously, she put a hand on her stomach,
trying not to show her nerves.

husband smiled at her, squeezing her hand, and she relaxed somewhat. He’d been fighting
for peace even before his father had died and he’d inherited the crown, and at
long last, it was finally happening.

pleases the crown that we have reached an agreement,” Doran said, his voice
booming in the cavernous throne room. “Is there anything you would ask of us,
other than our most sincere apologies for the bloodshed?”

inquiry was answered by a series of quiet whispers, in a language that Jazira
couldn’t understand.

wish to continue making our offerings to you, if you’re amenable to it,”
Someone said in the crowd.

will we give you in return? Let it not be said that King Doran is a greedy

already given us peace, Your Majesty. How could we possibly ask for more?”

doused the rest of Jazira’s worries, and she was glad that her heir would live
in a world where spirits, the undead, and the living coexisted in peace.


Title: The Queen of Nothing

Author: Holly Black

Age Group: Teen/Young Adult

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Folk of the Air, book three

Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

               I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

               Holly Black and I have a bit of a strained relationship: Some of her books I’ve fallen heads over heels for, and others just weren’t my cup of tea. I loved The Cruel Prince and its sequel, The Wicked King. If I’m being totally honest, I put it off for as long as I could because I’d heard that there were quite a few people who disliked the series’ last book. I just finished it yesterday and I’m still shocked that it’s all over! This book had everything: romance, dangerous secrets, political intrigue, magic, and shocking twists and turns! I loved it. I was screaming, crying, tearing my hair out the whole time I was reading it. And I’m more than a little sad that it’s all over! But I enjoyed every crazy, emotional minute of it all.

               The Queen of Nothing starts where The Wicked King left off, with Jude being exiled to the mortal realm and stripped of her title as High Queen of Elfhame. Forced to return to her sister, Vivi, who lives in the mortal world, Jude is resigned to a fate worse than death: to be exiled from Elfhame and the land of faeries forever. But when her twin, Taryn, arrives, pleading Jude for help, she finds herself once again within Elfhame. Forced to disguise herself, she infiltrates the castle, determined to plead her case to Cardan, her husband and former lover. But time stops for no one, not even Jude, and she realizes that while some enemies are closer to home than others, she must force herself to confront the darkness inside, or risk losing everything she’s ever fought for and everyone she’s ever loved…

               I really, really liked this book! As I said, I was nervous (and if I’m being totally honest, I was putting it off), so I held it off as long as possible; I didn’t want to be disappointed. But I’m very happy to report I wasn’t! The pacing was breakneck, and despite not rereading the first two books, within ten pages I knew what was going on. I loved Jude, Cardan, Taryn, and Oak, as well as their parents, Madoc and Oriana. To be honest, there wasn’t a character that I didn’t love in this trilogy’s finale. There were twists and turns, political intrigue that had me gasping and almost full-on screaming, romance that had my heart fluttering, and several other surprises I won’t go into detail revealing, in case any of my readers hasn’t read it yet. I wasn’t upset about the ending; in fact, I really don’t know how Holly Black could’ve ended this explosive trilogy any other way. I loved every single nail-biting moment in The Queen of Nothing, and I’m so, so sad that one of my favorite series of recent years is over! Cue the major book hangover, slump, and the eternal question: What to read next? The bottom line: Richly detailed, meticulously plotted, and surprising, I loved The Queen of Nothing!

(IP) A Mother’s Love

               It had
been years since she’d heard anything but the songs of the waves. So, the tiny,
mewling cry that sounded jolted her out of her thoughts.

almost missed it, she recalled with a twinge of guilt. If she hadn’t been
paying attention, she would’ve gone about her day as usual. But somehow, someone
had found their way here and left an infant—another human—at her doorstep.

about this situation was familiar. It had been years since she’d raised
children; hers were long grown, and gone off to live their own lives. Their
leaving had given her the opportunity to learn about herself; she’d learned to
be content with solitude.

hush, little one, I’m sure we can find some milk somewhere…”

child was swaddled in a blanket that was already damp from seawater, but her
bright eyes were green, and intent on her new caretaker. One arm had come free
from the wrapping, and instinctively, the woman took it. The infant’s feet and
hands were webbed, translucent even in the bright morning light.

Hattie found a jug of milk in her fridge, and she found a clean rag. Dipping it
in the milk, she gave it to the child to suckle.

just where have you come from, child?” Hattie asked the baby, smiling down at her.

child wasn’t completely human, clearly; but Hattie wasn’t the type of woman to
be prejudiced.

all, no child could choose their parents. And for whatever reason, she’d been chosen
to raise this child, as the gods saw fit.


passed, and Hattie’s baby, named Emerald, Emma for short, grew. Whatever her
parentage, the webbing between her toes and fingers became more visible. And no
matter how Hattie pleaded, Emma would not consent to wearing gloves or shoes to
hide her differences.

does it matter, anyway? I have webbed fingers and toes. It can’t be that
unique, Mama Hattie.”

child had called Hattie that from the time she could talk, and her mother saw
no issue with it.

               “I don’t
know, sweetheart. Soon you’re going to have to go to a university, or at least
learn a trade. You need to be able to take care of yourself.”

groaned. “I don’t want to think about that right now, Mama Hattie.”

well. But eventually, we’re going to have to talk about this, whether you feel
ready or not.”


was sitting in front of the house, on the porch, when her daughter came home.

Mama Hattie! One of the blacksmiths in town just came to me about having an
apprenticeship! He said that I can start as soon as I finish school. Isn’t that

for her part, had had no idea that her daughter even had the slightest interest
in blacksmithing. But she was happy for her child nonetheless.

it is, my little Emerald. I’m proud of you, and will be, no matter what you
choose to do with your life.”

               It was
time to finally tell Emma the truth of her origins. This day had come all too


(WP) Dreams and Nightmares

father used to be a fisherman and the ocean took him. Capricious,
unpredictable, the day he died the sea turned from a docile pet to an angry,
vicious creature. The waves pitched his boat like a toy, and he slid off the
deck, never to be seen again.

terrified of the ocean; even before it took my father, it scared me to death.
There was just so much saltwater, and that had been before I’d realized that
creatures of the unknown lived under the waves.

               So, it
was only desperation that sent me to the docks, looking for work.

a little girl doing here?” A voice, deep and male, shocked me out of my

I need work,” I replied, feeling my cheeks heat up, betraying me.

               The man
was an old, weather-beaten sailor; he had a sly smile that was full of holes.

               “If you’re
desperate, I can take you to get trained as a Dreamcatcher.”

stared at him; eyebrows raised. As far as I knew, dreamcatchers were clever
little devices that caught your nightmares, leaving you with only good dreams.

               “I don’t
understand,” I said, and he smirked.

never do, at first. So what’s it gonna be, kid? Are you coming or not?”

stared out at the ocean, roiling angrily, stirred by the wind. But my need was
greater than my fear, so I followed the man into the unknown.


trained for more than a month before I was paired with an older employee and
given a mission.

this is dangerous work, not for the fainthearted. Of course, even cowards need
to eat,” Ben, my partner, joked, his smile sliding off of his face at my expression.

know, Ben.”

kid, you won’t know. Not until you’ve experienced it yourself.”

Ben, and the sailor, Captain Reynolds, I’d heard so many variations of that
same lecture.

careful. Nightmares and dreams are both tricky, just in different ways.

I didn’t know exactly what that meant, not until afterward.


               The sea
that night was oddly calm, as smooth as a gigantic pane of glass. The hairs on
the back of my neck prickled, but I clenched my fists, not wanting to reveal my

a tip, kid. No one is allowed to go out alone. It’s way too dangerous. We’ve
lost some of our most experienced Dreamcatchers that way.”

nodded, my eyes on the waves. Even with the light of the full moon, it was
nearly impossible to see.

               Then I
saw the lights dancing under the water, clashing and then coming together, then
smashing into one another again. The captain stood at the ready; he insisted on
coming, the better to watch me learn in action.

see which one wins. Then we’ll sedate, label, and separate them.”

looked at Ben, frowning, not sure what he meant by that.

the lights came up from the water, and I realized that they were shaped like
humanoids. One was a bright, searing gold, and the other was a dark violet that
was closer to black than purple.

kid? Let’s get your first mission off the books!”


(IP) A Reluctant Audience

trained their whole lives to fight in the war they’d inherited from their
ancestors. But intertwined with the bloodshed came an unbreakable bond with
beasts of myths and legends. It gave unimaginable power, but the tradeoff was blood,
sweat, tears; the very essence of human life.

               It was
an old and ancient way, and thus far, it had given them an edge. One that might
turn the tide of the war and end it all.

this pair in particular was tired of warfare, of all the lives wasted in the

I, with my animal instincts, know that this kind of killing is wrong. When does
it end? What is truly enough? They’re not killing for survival, but for sport.
It’s wasteful.

soldier mounted on the great bird’s back grunted in agreement, idly stroking a
hand down his plush plumage.

worry that one of these skirmishes will be our last,” He said aloud, shattering
the silence that had descended like a thick wool blanket over the mountain

death wouldn’t be so awful, instead of endless battles? Surely the gods didn’t
put us here to lay waste to everything.” The griffin replied, his feathers
ruffling in the wind. They’d been together since Dominic was a child. The egg
that Talon had hatched from had originally been Dominic’s mother’s, but she’d
died in childbirth. It had been only fitting for Dom’s father to give it to his
newborn son.

couldn’t imagine life without Talon; he’d always been the thing Dom had
revolved around, other than his father. They were partners in all things,
though Dom had dropped the monk’s pacifist ways when they’d joined the war.
That decision had been mostly Dominic, and Talon couldn’t allow his partner to
run into danger alone.

conscience would have never allowed it, even without his fleeting memories of
Dominic’s mother. But that has been before Dominic had declared his intentions:
He didn’t fight the war to win it.

wanted to end it, to achieve peace for this realm and so many others.

that required an audience with a King who cared more about lining his coffers
and bedding his wife’s chambermaids than about the lives of his people.

Dominic had already decided that whatever the cost, he would pay it, whatever
it required.

               The continent
was soon abuzz with near impossible stories of the homeless, fierce warrior
ronin and his flying companion. And soon, other pairs began to pop up: a giant
serpent and a sorceress, a shaman and an elephant who crushed trees and people
under its massive feet, a tiger who could fly with a lush, multicolored pelt.

was brewing, and magic was thick and heavy in the air by the time Dominic and
Talon reached the capitol city, so desperate to speak to the monarch that Dom
was forced to resort to breaking into the palace, disguised as a servant.

stayed on the outskirts of the palace city, hoping that at least Dominic would
be able to get inside.

crept through the halls, trying to look as if he knew where he was going.

               When he
reached a set of gold double doors, he slipped inside.

when he turned around, he found the King himself in bed with a scullery maid.

Majesty, we need to talk.”


(WP) The Blackest Day

               I wake
up the morning of my sixteenth birthday to my family standing out in the hall,
whispering to one another. This is the day that my life changes forever; I’ll
finally receive my final aura color, and then I’ll be sent to college for
further instruction or placed in a work study, based on whatever color I receive.

               “I don’t
think she’s awake just yet, but the color I’m seeing is black. Not a dark hue,
but pure black. This hasn’t happened in at least half a century.” I think I
hear my mother’s voice, a hiss in the sleepy early morning.

               I blink,
wondering if I’m stuck in one of those weird dreams where you think you’re
awake but not.

Emma, isn’t it a little early to be worrying about her aura color? I mean, it’s
possible it will change, right?”

believe that if it literally wasn’t the morning of her sixteenth birthday!” My
mother replies, her tone acidic enough to melt whatever is in her path.

She might be awake! You don’t want to frighten the poor child.” I recognize my older
brother Clay’s voice; if it wasn’t for the telltale growl at the end of the
sentence, I’d think everything was fine. But as usual, it’s my older brother
who is acting like the parent in the situation.

voices fade into whispers so quiet that I can no longer make them out, and
there is a chorus of three different knocks on my door.

in!” I say, sitting up, hoping that the fact that I’ve overheard them doesn’t
show on my face.

16th birthday, Harper!” The three of them say in unison, and I smile at them,
feeling my cheeks warm.

you, everyone!” I say, laughing when a piece of coconut cream cake is placed in
front of me, thick with icing.

you excited?” Clay asks, his eyes dancing; only the slightest tension in his
jaw reveals his distress. “You’re officially an adult today!”

is too tame a word for the tangle of emotions inside me, and to avoid answering,
I shove a forkful of breakfast cake in my mouth.

almost time for your aura screening! Finish your cake, and we’ll get you

begins getting my clothes together for the ceremony, as if I’m still six and
not sixteen.

               “Mom! I
can do that myself, you don’t have to—”

nonsense! This is your last day in our house! Of course, I’m going to help you get

all of my many protests, Mom insists on dressing me up in a gown that is
emerald green, with three-quarter sleeves, a sweetheart neckline, and real
emeralds pasted to the hem.

been waiting for this day my whole life, but dread buzzes through my
bloodstream, muting my senses.

did they mean when they said my aura was pitch-black? And how someone with an
aura that color hadn’t been discovered for fifty years?

               I walk
to the ceremony with my family on leaden feet, their words on repeat through my
head, like an alarm.

could it all mean?


(WP) Gnomes in the Garden

               I was
helping my mother weed in the garden, and the chill of the rain still hung in
the air, my skin prickling with goosebumps. My gloves were black with rich,
damp soil, and I wrapped my fingers around the bottom of a weed, trying to pull
it out by the roots.

before I could, I felt a sharp, bright twinge of pain, and I gasped. I heard a
shrill, high-pitched giggle, and I examined my hand. Even through the thick
rubber of the gloves, I could see a tiny hole, brimming red with blood. I swore
under my breath, and my mom turned to look at me.

               “Did a
gnome get you again?” She asked, with the slightest hint of laughter in her
voice. I nodded, and she took my gloves off, setting them down on the grass.

examined my finger and smiled, kissing the wound.

gnomes are such rascals. They’re bigger pests than all the animals we’ve had to
keep away combined,” She said, and I laughed. She wasn’t lying about that. The
gnomes, tiny little horned creatures with earth magic who adored mischief, were
but a small part of the creatures that we’d learned to live with.

were troublemakers, but they didn’t mean any harm. They just liked the soil,
and we were disturbing them, but it had to be done.

have these things living under our vegetables, we need our food.”

mother had taught me that the non-human entities of this world needed just as
much respect as everyone else, and we’d made a pledge to aid any creature that
didn’t mean us any harm. Aside from the occasional eviction, gnomes weren’t
frightening. But there were plenty of other things that Mom had taught me to
avoid: fairies, especially one with a human and fey parent, because they could
lie even better than humans, shifters who feasted upon human flesh when the sun
disappeared, nymphs and dryads who hid in the trees and water and whispered
your deepest desire, in exchange for a kiss that ended in death for the victim.

               But above
all else, I’d been told to never venture into the wood at the back of our property.
I’d been curious about what secrets were hidden within the trees since
childhood, but had never arrived at a real answer.

               I gazed
back towards the woods, not realizing that my mother was still speaking to me.

need to finish up our picking and go inside, get dinner started. We’ve already
got most of them out of the garden. Come along, child.”

stood up, cradling the basket full of peppers, tomatoes, squash and mushrooms.

mother followed my gaze and frowned.

have died in those woods, Frida. I know you’re curious, but I can’t have you
disappearing on me.” She tilted her head toward the cottage, and I followed
her, holding the door open since her hands were full.

there was a faint whisper, coming from the outskirts of the wood, saying my

there’s so much you don’t know. Come to the edge of the forest at first light,
and we’ll speak. I’ve been waiting for this moment since you were born.