What Jaden remembered of the wreck was screaming and water drops hanging in the air and the thin white mast at a diagonal and then breathing cold water deep into his chest, shrieky regret about too much stuff at once, and now he was here. A desert island. It was the kind people in single-panel cartoons are always living on. The only difference for Jaden was that there was no tall coconut tree drooping over him, casting a puddle of shadow for him to move with all day.
It is three days before she dreams a strange prophecy. The Daganites believe prophecy is shrouded in mystery. In truth, it is logical—bound by choice and statistics and a million small things they don’t pay attention to, but that gods do. Mortals love secret and ritual and when they come to her temple with their hundred small choices they don’t look at her. Eyes cast down, watering from the smoke, foreheads pressed to the ground.
Freedom means walking through the park on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, instead of being locked up in the hospital or a group home. Caleb was released from the hospital this morning, not because he’s well—he knows he’ll never be what the doctors call well—but because they had nothing left to offer him. He dutifully took their pills when he was locked up, because otherwise, they just get a court order to force you. No freedom in hospitals.
Tana was in a humid cave checking the rind on a round of Tomme when the messenger arrived to tell her that the war was lost and her wife was to be hanged. She took her time rewrapping the cheese before she responded. Still too soft. Another week, she estimated. The rind was a beautiful blue-black shade that would catch a maid’s eye in the market. Ruining a fine wheel wouldn’t save Renae. And she knew what the boy was going to say as soon as she heard his nervous footsteps.
It’s a Sunday morning and the woman in your bed is exactly your type. Turquoise hair, cut perfectly. Full sleeve tattoo in progress; she says she’s adding to it as she gets the money. A smile that makes you want more—and she knows how to use it. When she leaves—hair messy, socks stuffed into her pocket, still smiling, and saying you should text her—you shower, then bind both your chest and your wings.
Ten years ago, I stood on a rooftop alone. In front of me, a many-winged beast clung to the wires between traffic lights, drooling sparks onto the asphalt. I summoned a bright arrow from my wishing star and readied my bow. I had to defeat this false angel, rescue civilians, and heal the injured, and I had to do it all by myself, because nobody else would. When I leapt, my leading ankle struck the roof’s edge and twisted.
“Look closely and tell me what you see,” said the nun. I licked my dry lips. “Blood.” “And what else, child?” “Bone,” I said, though at twenty-six I was far from a child, even if I was still a novice. However, my mistress, Mother Frey, was approaching eighty winters, and so was permitted to treat most people she met as children. “At least, I think it’s bone. Pieces, anyway.” Mother Frey sighed and straightened.
Dear Fairy Godmother: I work as the housekeeper for a collective of seven men. It’s a non-normative living situation, but it works for me. (I am estranged from my family, due to my stepmother being crazy.) Lately, however, I’ve been harassed by a woman trying to sell me apples. She is constantly offering me free samples and acting hurt when I don’t buy. My employers have forbidden me from letting anyone into their home, and I value their trust. But I also know there are a lot of prejudices about old women who wander around forests selling apples, and I don’t want to play into that.
By the time Bose Roberds spied the lone, empty wagon, he got the nagging suspicion that he was meant to follow the stranger’s trail easily. The noon sun beat on him like a whip in a heavy hand. He’d followed the tracks across the plains for quite some time. Whoever he tracked could’ve traveled through thickets so dense that neither man nor horse could see for more than a few yards at a time. More than once, Bose feared that the man might lurk in the brush, hiding in the draws and canyons. The other cowhands lingered a few lengths behind him, more than a mite cranky.
Visshki, now the eldest and most senior of the Serpents, had heard of the curse pronounced by his own mother. He called a meeting with Airavata and all their other siblings. “Brothers, as you know our own mother has cursed us. Anyone who is cursed by his own mother has no hope of remedy. What is more, Brum himself was witness to this curse, which makes it immutable. Now, we are all doomed to die in the serpent satra of King Majaya which is but the same curse of our mother Kadrush brought to fruition.