Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




The Fenghuang

Her skin was sore and feverish under her fingers, as it always was a few days after she came back from the dead. Candice unwrapped the bandages around her head and peeled off the itchy scabs behind her ears. She shuddered at the memory of her regeneration: the charred bones snapping back into place, the raw skin stretching over exposed nerves, the first pump of blood searing like hot acid through her reborn body. She glanced out the hospital room window and watched the ferries spill commuters back onto Hong Kong Island. She wished she could be one of them—anyone else, really.

The door opened. Her mother, still wearing her waitressing uniform, appeared in the reflection behind her. She smiled shakily when she saw Candice out of bed.

They ate soggy pork belly on rice and chatted about the week Candice missed: how the restaurant owner finally kicked out his gambling addict son, how the cha siu bao her mother made for a church potluck was a hit, and then about Solven, the new anger-suppressing pills the doctor had put Candice on.

“It’s only been two days, so it’s too early to tell if they’re working,” Candice said. She frowned at the pill on the bedside table, which looked like a lavender Tic Tac. “Maybe they’re a waste of money, anyway. Nothing has stopped my flare-ups so far, so how likely is it that these pills will?”

“You just said it was too early to tell,” her mother said. There were dark bags under her eyes, the colour of old bruises. She’d always worked multiple jobs when Candice and her little brother Sammy were growing up, and had doubled down on her shifts now that Candice was getting hospitalized at the best hospital on Hong Kong Island, the only place equipped to handle her case. “Give it some time, okay?”

They chatted some more, and before her mother left, she told Candice that Sammy got accepted to St. Edward’s International School on a partial scholarship.

Guilt tightened around Candice’s neck. She thought of Sammy hunched over his textbooks in their cramped box of a living room, how Sammy always stayed up late to do homework on the top bunk of their bed back when it was still safe to sleep in the same room. Sammy was her family’s only hope for a better life, but now they had to use some of the funds for his schooling on Candice’s treatment.

After the door clicked shut, Candice opened the window and sucked in the sweet summer air. Tears burned in her eyes and smeared the neon Victoria Harbour cityscape into a nauseating brightness.

I’m a burden, she thought, and imagined hoisting herself onto the sill. Dust would powder the soles of her feet, and her hospital gown would balloon up with the breeze as she leaned into the mountains below. I should just die for real.

Rhythmic guitars. Gritty vocals in English.

Candice pressed her cheek against the mesh screen until she could see the window of the next room. Light shimmered out of it, which was a shock since she was usually the only inpatient at this hospital ward, which handled medical mysteries. She laughed when she realized that her neighbour was listening to “Poison” by Alice Cooper. It was a song that Sammy—who, despite his smarts, had the cheesiest music taste on the planet—replayed constantly when he studied because he claimed glam metal helped him retain information.

The surprise of hearing the song, or maybe just the discovery that she wasn’t alone after all, was enough to snap Candice out of her dark thoughts.

She fell asleep with the pill dissolving under her tongue, and promised herself that she would live another day.

• • • •

Candice met her new neighbour in the eating area the next morning, when they both reached for the jug of tea at the same time. She looked young, maybe in her early twenties like Candice, though her straight back and raised chin gave her a dignified air that not even the baggy hospital gown draping off her thin frame could deflate.

“Darn, I thought I had this place all to myself,” the girl said. But she slid the jug to Candice and smiled.

Her name was Fiona Chow. She was the daughter of a real estate developer and had just come back from sequencing her genome in Italy, which unfortunately didn’t tell her anything new about her condition. They ate their toast and congee by a large bay window overlooking the mountains.

“My father may be good at business, but he’s dumb everywhere else.” Fiona dipped her toast in the congee until it was soggy enough to roll up and cram into her mouth. Her nails were studded with what looked like tiny diamonds, and Candice could imagine her all dressed up, in a mink coat with a designer bag hanging off her arm. “He actually thought I made up my condition just to get attention. Then the physical symptoms came and that shut him up real quick.”

“What’s your condition?” Candice asked.

Fiona smirked. “Like I’d tell you,” she said, and stole the last toast from Candice’s plate.

Candice looked back out the window. Forested land stretched farther than she could see, and a hot shard of anger pierced her mind. In the past few years, the rent at her housing complex had nearly doubled, and it was clearly not due to a lack of supply. The government owned all the land and controlled who could buy and develop it, which kept people like Candice and her family in tiny water-stained apartments that were barely tall enough to stand in.

“Tell me about yourself.”

Candice blinked. Fiona had leaned forward with her face in her hands. Her eyes were luminous dark pearls, and bits of wet toast clung to her heart-shaped lips. Candice almost didn’t want to ruin such innocence with her depressing truth.

“I burn to death sometimes,” Candice muttered, “and then I come back to life.”

She expected Fiona to snort or laugh, but all Fiona said was, “Like a phoenix?”

Candice shrugged. “I guess.” She thought about the first time she incinerated. It was during a time when Candice was silently crumbling under the rigors of her high school’s International Baccalaureate program, when she woke up with an aching jaw every morning because she’d been grinding her teeth all night. When Candice finally told her mother that she wanted to quit the program, her mother had slapped her. A second later, there was a snap in Candice’s mind, and then flames circled her wrists like handcuffs. By the time her mother splashed her with water, it was too late. The white flames had licked up her arms and shoulders, an inferno that grew until everything went dark, like a plug was pulled.

“How about other stuff?” Fiona asked.

“Other stuff?”

“Yeah. Like, what else are you all about?”

“Oh.” It’d been a while since anyone asked Candice about herself outside of her condition. She stared at her hands, where white curls of dead skin were still flaking off, then tucked them between her thighs. “I have a little brother. He’s entering high school and really smart.”

“Yeah? Tell me more.”

The last embers of anger in Candice’s mind fizzled out the more they talked, the more Fiona leaned in with those big eyes, like Candice was actually interesting. By the time they split up in the hall to go to their respective morning checkups, a lightness had started to flicker inside Candice’s chest.

They ate breakfast every day after that, always sitting by the same bay window, Candice always talking about herself while Fiona wolfed down a leaning tower of toast. When Candice was with her, she forgot that she was bald, that there were scabby parts of herself that needed to be covered up with bandages. Fiona accepted her in a way that no one else did, including Candice’s mother, who decided Sammy should attend a boarding school to get away from his inflammable sister.

One evening, Candice found Fiona sitting in the eating area during dinner. There was a white box on the table, along with two plastic forks.

“It’s my birthday today,” Fiona said. “Want to help me celebrate?”

Fiona’s father had sent her a strawberry shortcake. They’d known each other for two weeks now, enough time for Candice to notice how Fiona wrinkled her nose whenever she was in a bad mood—like right now.

“He could’ve taken a day off to see me.” Fiona dipped a strawberry in frosting and popped it into her mouth. She licked her fingers after, which Candice thought was really cute. “One day shouldn’t be too much to ask. It’s like he’s ashamed to be seen with me or something.”

“Maybe he’s just ashamed of himself,” Candice said. Her own father had moved to Guangzhou to be with a woman he’d met online and hadn’t contacted her or Sammy since. Their mother had said it was because he couldn’t face himself.

“Maybe.” Fiona took out a smartphone and scrolled through what looked like a glam metal playlist. “Anyway, there are some benefits of having my own space. At least he bribed the admin here to let me keep my phone so he can keep tabs on me without actually being here. And I got to go to school in America, which is where I learned about music like this.”

She popped an earphone into Candice’s ear and played “Breathless” by Quiet Riot, which Candice thought was actually pretty good.

“So what’s your condition?” Candice asked.

It was a risk to ask this again, since Fiona already didn’t want to tell her the first time. But the reflection in the window showed them slumped together, close in a way that felt surreal.

The sofa cushions squeaked. Fiona straightened up and lifted her hospital gown. Candice sucked in a breath when she saw Fiona’s bare stomach—and what looked like a dark mole about the size of a fist. It protruded from where Fiona’s belly button should’ve been and was perfectly round and solid, like a billiard ball.

“I woke up with this on my gut two months ago.” Fiona jutted out her chin, looked more defiant than ashamed. “I thought it was a mole at first, but it kept growing. X-rays showed nothing inside, and scalpels and other tools kept breaking on it during the removal process. And you know all about my useless genome sequencing trip. I’ve been eating like a starved animal because this thing sucks all the nutrients out of me.”

Candice swallowed. “Weird.”

“Yeah.” Fiona covered herself again, looked Candice in the eyes. She smiled. “So you want to make out?”

Candice kissed her first. She had wanted to do so for a while and almost couldn’t believe that she could. Fiona’s lips tasted like strawberries and frosting, and when her fingernails grazed the back of Candice’s neck, little sparks of electricity vibrated down Candice’s spine.

But the sparks dimmed almost as soon as they’d appeared, and over the next few days, they died off completely. After more kisses that left her feeling hollow, Candice asked to read the side effects of Solven during a checkup with her doctor.

May cause emotional numbness.

That was the main flaw of the pills, she realized. It not only numbed the spikes of anger inside of her, but also the bursts of joy, too.

Candice’s mother visited a week later. After a consultation with the doctor, they determined that Candice was well enough to be discharged. She was instructed to take Solven daily and to meet weekly with her doctor to monitor her progress.

“Here’s my number.” Fiona handed Candice a napkin on the day she was discharged. Candice had changed into her regular clothes, a hoodie and old jeans, and was surprised that Fiona, who must be very fashionable, still wanted to keep in touch despite seeing how she was dressed. “You better call me, Miss Phoenix, or else.”

Candice did. She called Fiona that night, wrapped in blankets to shield her voice from her mother on the other side of the paper-thin wall. Sammy was already at St. Edward’s now, but she didn’t miss him like she thought she would. She didn’t feel that lightness in her chest anymore, either, not even when Fiona said “I love you” before she hung up.

• • • •

Candice visited Fiona regularly. She told her mother that she was going to Hong Kong Island to hand out résumés to retail shops, and for a few days, she did. But when nightmares of white flames snaking up shelves of coffee beans started to jolt her awake with an aching jaw—something that hadn’t happened since high school—she stopped her job-searching efforts.

“I had an argument with a customer when it happened,” Candice said, when Fiona asked about the nightmares. “It made me so angry that I stepped aside to take a breather. I leaned against the coffee shelf and before I knew it, I was flaring up. That was what landed me in the hospital the last time.”

Candice tipped more of her mother’s cha siu bao onto Fiona’s plate. Fiona had dropped at least ten pounds since Candice was discharged over a month ago. Her cheekbones poked sharply against her skin, and her scalp, waxy like a peeled onion, was starting to show through her thinning hair.

Fiona picked up Candice’s newly refilled Solven bottle and bounced it on her palm. “You ever wonder if there’s nothing wrong with you?” Fiona asked. “That it’s places like this that are wrong, telling you what you should or shouldn’t be?”

“I burn to death, I’d say that’s wrong,” Candice said. She tugged the bottle easily out of Fiona’s grasp and tipped it left and right. She watched the lavender pills bump and slide against each other and thought about how Fiona didn’t have something similar to help her manage her condition.

“Sure, you burn to death, but you also come back to life. There’s a kind of balance there, don’t you think?” Fiona got out her smartphone and showed Candice an English website. There was a painting of a phoenix, its red-tipped wings spread high above its flaming head, its beak raised to the sun. “I’ve been reading up on phoenixes. Did you know there’s a Chinese phoenix? It’s the symbol for an empress. A, uh, feng something—”

“Fenghuang,” Candice said. She’d started noticing these differences between them, like how Fiona sometimes mispronounced Cantonese words when she spoke too fast or listened exclusively to English language songs.

“Yeah, a fenghuang.” New wrinkles formed around Fiona’s mouth when she smiled. “You’re my fenghuang, you know. You bring me luck.”

Candice looked away. Fiona, with her limited knowledge of local culture as a rich kid who grew up abroad, didn’t know that the fenghuang wasn’t actually a phoenix. It was simply a bird that never died, a creature that Candice, who had died many times, could never be.

It was a small thing, but it deepened the crack in Candice’s belief that they could ever understand each other. She waited a few days before visiting Fiona, and then an entire week. When she did visit, it was mainly to talk with her doctor or get a refill of Solven. Her conversations with Fiona became clipped and flat, and eventually she stopped replying to Fiona’s texts altogether. The doctor upped Candice’s dosage when she told him about the mild blips of annoyance she still experienced, which cloaked her emotions under a heavier blanket of numbness, but at least it seemed to have eliminated her incinerations for good.

But on the day she found out that St. Edward’s had bumped up Sammy’s scholarship from partial to full, Candice broke her silence and called Fiona to tell her the good news. Fiona had once offered to pay the rest of Sammy’s school expenses if Candice’s family couldn’t afford it, and the news would put the matter to rest once and for all.

Fiona didn’t answer. Not on the first day Candice called, nor the second. When Fiona didn’t answer for three days in a row, Candice took the ferry to the hospital to see her.

The front desk receptionist told Candice that Fiona had checked out the week before. They couldn’t give Candice confidential patient information, so she left the hospital without knowing where Fiona lived or whether she was even still alive.

• • • •

The days smeared into each other after that. Candice’s calls continued going straight to voicemail. Online searches for “Fiona Chow” turned up strangers’ profiles, and there were too many businessmen by the name of “Chow” in Hong Kong to count.

When the trees lit up with holiday lights and wet snow sloshed across the pavement, Solven flatlined Candice’s nerves enough for her to start looking for a job again. She applied at places like Louis Vuitton and Hermès, but stopped after she realized that Fiona might not even shop at those stores. Or did she? Candice didn’t know. She had always talked while Fiona listened, and even when Fiona did throw in the occasional comment about her life, they were limited to complaints about her father and her opinions on music, like whether Kiss was more innovative than Mötley Crüe. Candice cursed herself for not having asked more about Fiona, like the name of the real estate development company her father owned.

At least I can stuff my face without worrying about gaining weight, Fiona said, in a dream that made Candice blink awake with tears on Christmas morning. At least there’s that.

Candice hadn’t cried in a long time, and the fact that she still could startled her. She climbed onto Sammy’s old bunk, plugged in his CD player, and listened to “Poison” by Alice Cooper on repeat. Her mother was on the phone in the kitchen, telling someone about how hard-working Sammy was, who chose to study at St. Edward’s instead of coming home for Christmas. Candice turned up the volume and curled on her side. She stared at the yellowing math equations Sammy had taped on the wall and strained and strained, but her eyes remained dry, just a hollow gurgle escaping her throat.

After more failed attempts to cry, to laugh, to generate any emotion that made her feel alive, Candice went online. Her research told her that Solven didn’t work the same way for everyone, how some ended up fatigued instead of emotionally numb, or needed heavier dosages to achieve the same results. But the most helpful resource she found was a forum where local people discussed their personal experiences with Solven.

It’s not enough for me just to take pills, one user wrote. I need yoga to manage my stress levels on a day-to-day basis.

I agree, someone else commented. I have to track my triggers in a journal so I can deal with them better next time.

When Candice asked the forum about what she should do to feel human again, she received the following answer:

You should speak to a professional instead of asking us. If you can’t afford one, come to our Thursday meetups. There’s a therapist who donates her time to our group.

Candice went. The meetup was held at a Starbucks in Harbour City, which smelled like hazelnut and vanilla and made her miss working as a barista. She sipped her dark roast and listened to Dr. Lam, the therapist, talk about techniques to interrupt negative thinking patterns. The group members then shared their wins and losses from the past week, all the challenges they tackled or would handle better next time. But the more Candice listened, the more she imagined the shelves of coffee beans around them bursting into white flames.

She wasn’t like the others in the group. She was different, cursed with a condition that they couldn’t understand. She shouldn’t have come here.

But as she stood to leave, Dr. Lam asked, “Are you the one who asked about feeling human again?”

Dr. Lam’s eyes were so warm and perceptive that Candice sat back down. She tensed up under the scrutiny of the group, but Dr. Lam nodded at her as though giving Candice permission to speak.

It wasn’t as bad as Candice thought. She told them about her incinerations and hospitalizations, and none of the group members moved away from her or accused her of lying. Some even patted her on the shoulder and offered words of encouragement.

“Come to my office this weekend,” Dr. Lam said, and handed Candice her contact card when it was time to leave. “We’ll talk one-on-one and create a treatment plan that works for you.”

Candice went home in a daze, feeling more hopeful than she had in the half-year since she started taking Solven.

• • • •

She went to Dr. Lam’s office that weekend, and then the weekend after that. They spoke with Candice’s doctor from the hospital and created a treatment plan that relied less blindly on high dosages of Solven and more on everyday coping skills and other things Candice had been neglecting, like eating better and getting enough sleep. Dr. Lam couldn’t explain how Candice’s temper led to her flare-ups, but it was more important to help her manage her condition than to endlessly dissect its cause.

“What if this plan doesn’t work?” Candice asked Dr. Lam one evening at her office, which overlooked the southern shore of Hong Kong Island. Candice could see the hospital from this angle, including the bay window where she and Fiona ate breakfast every morning.

“Then we’ll keep adjusting until it does,” Dr. Lam said.

The hardest part wasn’t following the new treatment plan, but convincing Candice’s mother that a new plan was needed. When Candice told her mother about it, her mother threw down the cleaver she’d been slicing cabbage with.

“You haven’t incinerated once since you started your current plan, and now you want to risk all your progress on something new?” Her mother frowned at Candice, and it hurt to look at those dark eye bags and know her mother had them because she worked hard for her children. “Who is this therapist, anyway? Is she really helping you for free?”

“She’s one of the best therapists around,” Candice said, thinking of the degrees and awards that decked Dr. Lam’s office. “I’m numb all the time, Ma. I can’t feel anything anymore.”

“You’re also not being burned alive.” Her mother pushed past her and went into the bathroom. She turned on the tap and splashed water on her face, which she always did to hide her tears. “Whatever numbness you feel is worth it if it means you get to stay alive.”

“I can’t even cry anymore,” Candice said. “It’s keeping me alive, but it’s robbing me of reasons to live—”

“How can you be so selfish?” Her mother looked up so fast that water droplets—or tears—splashed onto Candice’s cheeks. “Do you know how it feels to have to pick up your child’s remains? To watch your child’s ashes bubble in the hyperbaric chamber, wondering if this is the one time she can’t come back? I can’t even talk about you at church. Do you know what it’s like to have to pretend your daughter is normal all the time, when she’s clearly not?”

The words cut deeply, but Candice straightened up like Fiona would’ve done and held her ground. Her mother continued to list reasons why the new treatment plan wouldn’t work, but all Candice could hear were Fiona’s words: You ever wonder if there’s actually nothing wrong with you?

Candice pushed her mother away. She went into her bedroom, stuffed clothes and her treatment plan into her backpack, and left home that night.

• • • •

She headed to St. Edward’s International School, where she met Sammy on the cobblestone path outside the main gates.

“Of course I support your decision,” Sammy said, after Candice told him what happened. “We’ve been learning about mindfulness in psychology class. Apparently, it can help you cope with depression and other disorders. I also started meditating to deal with exam stress, and it’s been helping a ton. So if only taking Solven isn’t working for you, you have the right to test other solutions.”

Candice stared at him. Sammy had grown an inch since she’d last seen him, and the stubble on his chin made him look more grown-up than ever. There was a small Buddha statue on his desk, and a rolled-up yoga mat tucked under his bed. It seemed impossible, but Sammy, her wunderkind little brother who was good at everything, probably also had his own issues to deal with.

“What?” Sammy frowned. Like her, he’d been conditioned to interpret all glances in his direction as critical looks.

“I’m proud of you,” Candice said. She was proud of herself, too, for seeing how she and her brother weren’t so different after all, and for reclaiming the parts of herself she’d lost.

Candice slept on the floor of Sammy’s dorm and began the new treatment plan. Dr. Lam taught her how to pay attention to her breath and to use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to handle unpleasant situations, like the phone call with her mother about why she needed space to carry out the new treatment and therefore wouldn’t be coming home.

Candice continued going to the Thursday meetups. One of the group members was a manager at a luxury hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and gave Candice a job as a waitress at their restaurant. It was hard, grueling work: she not only handled orders but also wiped tables and mopped floors, but there was a rhythm to the work that soothed her. Sometimes, when she folded the cloth napkins into swan shapes, it felt like she was folding up her own jagged emotions that still crept up every now and then, too.

She even learned to control her flames. Instead of trying to fight them or stuff them down like she did before, she allowed them to flow through and out of her before they ballooned into something chaotic.

“Check it out,” Candice whispered to Sammy one night. A pale flame flickered on her index finger and cast a soft glow across the dark dorm. It grew or shrank depending on how hard she concentrated. “I’m a light source, Sammy.”

Sammy laughed and clapped, and in that moment, Candice felt like her condition wasn’t something she needed to hide anymore. Her mother had raised her to never talk about her flare-ups, to explain her absences from school or church with averted gazes and white lies, but now she chose to rewrite her narrative and make her condition into something beautiful.

By the time the snow melted and new leaves started to grow on the trees, Candice had learned enough techniques for her Solven dosage to be safely decreased.

It was around this time that she met Fiona again.

Fiona walked into the restaurant where Candice worked. She was skeletal now and looked childlike in her wavy wig and oversized cardigan, but the joy that pulsed through Candice was still enough to knock her over. When their eyes met, Candice smiled at her—and it was a miracle when Fiona smiled back.

“I didn’t answer your calls because I didn’t want you to see me,” Fiona said, once they got together at a Starbucks after Candice’s shift. Candice had wanted to pay for Fiona’s vanilla latte, but Fiona bought drinks for the both of them instead, joking how she needed to help out the millennial who was living paycheck to paycheck. The old Candice would’ve been annoyed at this blatant acknowledgement of their socioeconomic differences, but now it was easy for her to let the negative emotions go.

“I look horrible, don’t I?” Fiona asked, after enough silence had passed.

Candice hugged her. It was a relief when the tears came, and as she breathed in Fiona’s blossom perfume, she thought of the coming summer and how it was almost a year ago that they first met in the hospital.

“Where are you getting treatment now?” Candice asked when they pulled apart.

Fiona didn’t meet Candice’s eyes. “I’m not.”

She told Candice that she’d stopped treatment last fall, when the doctors and specialists told her that her mole was beyond their control. Unlike Candice, Fiona’s condition couldn’t be managed at all. Her mole was rooted in all the systems of her body and would continue to grow and live off of her until there was nothing left.

Fiona unbuttoned her heavy cardigan and showed Candice the mole, which was as big as a bowling ball now.

The sight was a cold blade in Candice’s chest. She put her face in her hands and wondered where all the time went.

• • • •

It couldn’t happen any other way. They decided to do it, and the time was now.

The sun glared over the mountains when they got off the lift. It was all green on this side of Hong Kong Island, no expensive hospitals or congested cityscapes in sight. Everything smelled piney and fresh so close to the peak, and as Candice led Fiona up the steps, she thought that this must be how it felt to be reborn without having to die for it.

“Why did we have to go all the way up here?” Fiona’s voice was small, but the wind carried it to Candice. It was autumn now, though it felt more like summer as Candice circled white flames over them to keep them warm.

“So you can go out in style, duh.” Candice bent down and helped Fiona climb onto her back. Fiona barely weighed anything now, with most of her heaviness coming from the mole that’d expanded across her chest, which grazed uncomfortably against Candice’s back as they climbed. Fiona pressed her chapped lips against the shell of Candice’s ear.

“I know when you fell in love with me,” Fiona said, a smile in her voice.

Candice grinned. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Fiona laughed, a wheezy sound that broke Candice’s heart. “It was when I showed you my killer abs.”

It took a while for Candice to realize that Fiona was referring to the night they’d leaned against each other on the sofa, when Fiona first showed her the mole. It was easy to see why Fiona would choose that moment, since they’d kissed not long after, so Candice didn’t challenge that assumption. She was only now starting to realize how she might’ve loved Fiona that night she heard Alice Cooper playing in the next room, how she might’ve loved Fiona before she even met her.

By the time they reached the peak, sweat stung Candice’s eyes and her knees wobbled from carrying Fiona. But it was worth it when she took in the view: a deep blue sky, endless forested mountains, thick mist curling over the clear shell of water. This was the tallest mountain on Hong Kong Island, the closest they could get to heaven from the ground.

Will Fiona come back like I can?

Candice didn’t have an answer. She snapped off her gloves and held Fiona’s bony face in her hands. She thought about her life up until now: her little brother who would always be lightyears ahead, her mother who had finally come to terms with the new treatment plan but now found fault with Candice’s job as a waitress, since she believed Candice should go back to school instead.

And then she thought of Fiona.

Candice stared into Fiona’s eyes, like everything she wished she could say could be communicated in that single look. Like how mythology didn’t mean a damn thing outside of the meaning you gave it. How you could be a fenghuang and still rise from the ashes, if you so choose. How in this version of the phoenix myth, their version, ashes didn’t just restore the phoenix, but those she cared about, too.

Candice took Fiona’s hand in hers. White flames circled over them, ready to swallow them up at Candice’s command. “Ready, Empress?”

Fiona nodded and squeezed her hand.

Together, they burned.

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Millie Ho

Millie Ho’s work appears in Lightspeed Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, and others. She was a finalist for the 2019 Rhysling Awards and lives in Montreal. Find her at and on Twitter @Millie_Ho.